James Holmes’ psychiatrist Dr. Lynne Fenton warned the university’s threat assessment team that he might be dangerous, and, tragically, nothing was done to stop him—at least, nothing effective:
Sources have told KMGH-TV that the threat assessment team never had a formal meeting and never intervened, believing that it had no control over Holmes once he’d left the university…A CU spokeswoman declined comment to KMGH on Fenton or any threat-team team actions, citing a gag order.
Dangerous people often become more dangerous, not less, when they’ve left an institution or job at which they’re having difficulty. But dangerousness can be difficult to evaluate in the absence of very clear signs, and the remedies are not always all that obvious even then.
For example, a mental health professional is required to give what’s called Tarasoff warnings if a person offers threats to a specific individual. That works for stalkers and their ilk, but it’s doubtful that Holmes specified to Fenton who his targets were, since he probably didn’t even know himself. Did he describe his modus operandi in any detail, or did he just mention vague thoughts of violence? Was he specific, or was it just a hunch on Fenton’s part?
Civil commitment is not that easily accomplished these days, although it would probably have been possible in Colorado if Holmes were to have been judged to be dangerous to himself or others.
I can’t even imagine how Dr. Fenton is feeling. One of the heaviest and most difficult responsibilities a psychiatrist has is to predict the violent behavior of patients under his/her care. In the case of Holmes, we don’t know for how long Fenton saw him prior to the murders; it might have been only a very short time. She seems to have properly sounded the alarm. But if and when the ball was dropped and by whom, or whether the threat assessment team’s hands were tied by the law, remains to be seen.