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Sadness vs. sympathy: The parents of killers

  • James Holmes' parents express sympathy for victims
  • Parents of notorious killers often torn by conflicting emotions
  • Dylan Klebold's mom: Columbine gunman 'did not do this because of the way he was raised
Sadness vs. sympathy: The parents of killers

In Aurora, Colorado, 24-year-old James Holmes is suspected of killing 12 people in a terrifying movie theater massacre.

A thousand miles away in San Diego, his parents are left trying to come to any sort of grips they can with the fact their own child could be responsible for such absolute horror.

"Our hearts go out to those who were involved in this tragedy and to the families and friends of those involved," Holmes' parents said in a statement released to the media.

It's of course impossible to try and imagine the difficult situation they now find themselves in. But we know from other parents of alleged and convicted killers that many seem to find themselves struggling to reconcile their innate loyalty to their child with the their own varying sense of guilt and sadness for the pain experienced by victims' families and disbelief a person they raised could commit such atrocities.

Lionel Dahmer, the father of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, was once asked by Larry King whether he felt any guilt for his son's actions. "Well, I'm not -- sometimes I feel like I do, in that, I mean, I'm not a participant in it, and yet I feel guilty that I didn't spend more time with Jeff, rather than with my wife," he said.

The late killer's father authored a book in which he wrote how many parents miss warning signs, or are too quick to dismiss them. "In the eyes of parents I think children always seem just a blink away from redemption. No matter to what depths we watch them sink, we believe they need only grasp the lifeline and we can pull them safely to shore."

Mary Clark's son, Nathan Gale, infamously killed Pantera guitarist "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott and three other people at a concert. She has simultaneously expressed sympathy for her son having suffered from a mental illness which she believes led to the murders while also stating she's thankful for the security guard who shot and killed him.

"I give that man credit," she told CBS News. "You'll never know how many lives he saved."

When Polly Powell's 14-year-old son, Nathaniel Brazill, was sentenced to 28 years in prison for killing his school teacher, she also acknowledged it was the proper resolution to a horrible situation. "I think it was fair," she said outside the court. Her husband later added, "I'll always love him"

Even the parents of Dylan Klebold -- one half of arguably America's most notorious modern gunmen, they of the Columbine shootings -- have displayed that the bonds between parent and child are not easily broken. They gave their only interview to date to The New York Times in 2004, in which David Brooks wrote of Klebold's father that "while acknowledging the horrible crime his son had committed, Tom was still fiercely loyal toward him."

Responding to the familiar insistence in these situations that the parents are to blame, Susan Klebold said, "Dylan did not do this because of the way he was raised... he did it in contradiction to the way he was raised.''

Parents of accused killers often find themselves absorbing a large amount of the public's venom for their child. The Klebolds have clearly been no different. They told The Times that their lawyer warned them that ''Dylan isn't here anymore for people to hate, so people are going to hate you." It's a reaction they grudgingly understand, despite disagreeing with it.

"People need to understand this could have happened to them," Tom Klebold said, defending the way they raised Dylan and expressing his inability to explain why his son was driven to kill his classmates.

Robert Kazmierczak says he struggles with the same thing. His son Steven was the gunman who killed five people in a 2008 rampage at Northern Illinois University. "I don't know what happened," he told the Chicago Tribune two months after the shootings, which ended with his son's suicide.

Kazmierczak said Steven had been treated for mental illness in the past -- a not-uncommon thread among many of these gunmen -- but he thought his son had put his troubles behind him.

"I wish I could find out the answers," he said. "I pray for those people at NIU. I pray for those people every day."

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