- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 24, 2012

DENVER — With two of the most horrific mass killings of modern times occurring in their state, Coloradans are bristling at the suggestion that their state is somehow more dangerous or prone to violence than others.

Gov. John Hickenlooper called Colorado “a safe state” in the aftermath of Friday’s Aurora theater massacre, and many beleaguered Coloradans agree with him, despite the national conversation about whether the state has somehow become a magnet for mass killings.

“I think it’s just a coincidence. I don’t think you can say that Colorado is where mass shootings happen,” Sarah Young, 17, of Highlands Ranch said as she waited for her team to play in a fast-pitch softball tournament over the weekend. “I feel like it’s just bad timing.”

Her teammate Stephanie Delgado, 19, called Colorado “one of the safest places you can live,” even though she lives in Aurora near the Century 16 theater, where a gunman killed 12 and wounded 58 at a midnight premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises.” Would she ever go to that theater again? “I would definitely go back to that theater. It’s one of my favorite theaters,” Miss Delgado said. “As long as it’s not a premiere, I would go.”

Christian Bale, the star of “The Dark Knight Rises,” visited victims of the shooting Tuesday at the Medical Center of Aurora. Photos of the actor, who plays Batman in the film, posing with wounded moviegoers appeared on various social media websites.

Separately, the families of the dead were turning to the business of burying their loved ones.

A service for A.J. Boik, an 18-year-old high school graduate, was set for Friday in Aurora. The family has asked that news media stay away from the service.

A full military funeral and burial is planned for Aug. 3 in Reno, Nev., for Jonathan Blunk, 26, who served three tours in the Middle East with the Navy and planned to re-enlist with the goal of becoming a Navy SEAL.

In San Diego, where the family of suspected shooter James Holmes lives, family attorney Lisa Damiani said Tuesday that “everyone’s concerned” about the possibility of the death penalty. When asked whether they stood by Mr. Holmes, Ms. Damiani said, “Yes, they do. He’s their son.”

In June, Mr. Holmes quit a 35-student doctorate program in neuroscience for reasons that aren’t clear. He earlier took an intense oral exam that marks the end of the first year. University of Colorado Denver officials, citing privacy concerns, would not say whether he passed.

The judge in his trial has issued an order barring attorneys in the case from publicly commenting on matters including evidence, whether a plea deal is in the works or results of any examinations.

Although Coloradans may feel like they live in a safe state, most undoubtedly were thinking “not again” after waking Friday to news of the theater killings.

The state has borne its share of gun-related mass tragedies and then some.

The list includes the 1993 Chuck E. Cheese shooting, in which Nathan Dunlap killed four employees of the restaurant in Englewood; the notorious 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, in which two teenage gunmen killed 12 students and a teacher before taking their own lives; and the 2007 New Life Church rampage, in which a lone gunman killed two missionaries in Arvada and three churchgoers in Colorado Springs over two days. He committed suicide after being wounded by a plainclothes church security officer.

The Denver Post acknowledged in an editorial that “some observers are probably going to wonder whether Colorado is especially prone to incubate murderous madmen — for lack of a better description — who seek out innocent targets in public venues given the array of incidents in recent years.”

“We suspect these incidents say more about modern reality, however, than they do about Colorado,” the paper said. “Sick, cruel or desperate people nursing grievances have taken to seeking some sort of bizarre fulfillment in public acts of terror, scripting their final acts for maximum impact.”

Del Elliott, founder of the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence at the University of Colorado Boulder, said Coloradans are correct when they say they live in a safe state, statistically speaking.

“Colorado is not a dangerous state,” Mr. Elliott said. “We’re in the bottom third of the country when it comes to murders. We have fewer homicides than average and fewer firearms-related homicides than average.”

The Uniform Crime Report shows that Colorado had 120 homicides in 2010, the last year for which final figures are available, for an average of 2.4 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. Nationally, the rate was 4.8 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.

Compare that with the District of Columbia, where the per-capita homicide rate was 21.9. Even in 1999, the year of the Columbine massacre, Colorado averaged 4.6 homicides, still lower than the national rate that year of 5.7 per capita.

What’s more, Colorado has fewer gun-related deaths — a little more than 50 percent — than the nation as a whole, where the rate in homicide cases is nearly 70 percent, said Mr. Elliott.

So why does Colorado endure so many mass shootings?

Mr. Elliott said it’s partly perception: While other states also experience mass shootings, there’s something about the Colorado events that meet the national media threshold for a major story, such as the bizarre or unusually brutal nature of the event.

The Columbine shooting was the first major school massacre of its kind, carried out by two teens who were good students. The New Life Church rampage targeted Christians. The Aurora gunman went to a hugely popular movie. The Colorado incidents were shocking in that they took place in locations — schools, churches, theaters — that are viewed as safe zones, against victims who were defenseless and largely unknown to the gunmen.

Then there’s just plain old bad luck. “These events are very rare, and it’s like flipping a coin,” Mr. Elliott said. “You can get three heads in a row. And that has to do with the random nature of the location.”

Many Coloradans would agree.

“A few incidents doesn’t make Colorado a violent state,” said Tim Hindman, 50, of Littleton, who lives a few miles from Columbine. “Colorado’s getting a bad rap. I don’t worry about Colorado. There are far worse places to live, trust me.”

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