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Frank Gray

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Villains trumping modern-day heroes

After obsessing for a weekend about the shootings in Colorado and hearing the numbers rise from 12 dead and 39 wounded to 50 wounded to 58 wounded, one comes to the conclusion that, though there are a lot of problems in the world, other problems just don’t seem that important right now.

Sure, there are trees threatening to fall on homes and parts of town where residents who are unhappy because the neighborhood seems to be in continued decline, but they just don’t measure up while I try to sort out the madness that individuals occasionally unleash.

The news that the gunman in Colorado was quickly caught after leaving the movie theater is good, and one immediately tries to grasp the bloodthirstiness of his actions and ponder that he will be held just as terribly accountable.

And then the news comes that he calmly told the police he was “The Joker” and you realize we’re dealing with another madman here.

The same reaction came when Jared Loughner killed six people and wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords along with 12 others in Arizona a couple of years ago. One becomes outraged and people start speculating that the gunman is a right-wing lunatic, but then it comes out that Loughner is totally mad and is incompetent to stand trial.

I suspect we’ll reach a similar ending in the Colorado case. There is a good chance, I imagine, that James Holmes will be found to be totally mad, also, maybe a genius who meticulously planned his attack, but a man who was crazy and had convinced himself he was the fictional comic book villain, the Joker.

We’ll probably learn later that there were signs he was a bomb waiting to explode, just like there were signs with Loughner, but nothing could be done to head off the madness because these people hadn’t yet hurt anybody.

People are already talking on the news shows about the possibility of forgiveness. Maybe some people have the capacity, but I don’t think, had I or someone I knew been a victim, I could ever forgive. There is only time, which slowly pushes thoughts from the front of your mind to the side and then the back.

Even if these mass killers are institutionalized for the rest of their lives, taken out of circulation for the protection of the rest of the world, there is little satisfaction.

Sunday, while the world was just finding out who the victims of the Friday morning shooting were – fast-food workers, soldiers, husbands, little girls – news also came that a crew at Penn State University had installed a fence and tarps on and around the statue of Joe Paterno and used a jackhammer to remove it, presumably forever.

So you pause and realize that we don’t have any heroes anymore. One by one they are disappearing and being relabeled. We have nothing left but villains, some madmen and others who are losing their cloaks of respectability.

Life will return to normal soon enough. In another few days, we’ll be reading about the funerals of the latest victims and then we’ll all move on and refocus on our smaller individual problems, but with fewer heroes and the memories of villains still lingering in the backs of our minds, until another one emerges and catches us completely off-guard again.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at You can also follow him on Twitter (@FrankGrayJG).