Why governor calls shooter ‘Suspect A’

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper had the right idea when he refused to utter the suspected gunman’s name in the Aurora multiplex theater shootings, which left 12 dead and 58 wounded. Instead of naming the alleged killer, Hickenlooper referred to him only as “Suspect A.” At a prayer vigil Sunday, Hickenlooper read the names of each of the 12 people killed in the incident. After each name, the crowd repeated the refrain, “We will remember.”

“We want to focus on the victims, survivors and first responders,” the governor’s spokesman, Eric Brown, explained, “not the killer.”

Victim Jessica Ghawi’s brother Jordan was one of the victim family members who met with President Barack Obama on Sunday. Afterward, Ghawi tweeted that Obama agreed not to name the shooter.

The president told the press that though “this perpetrator has received a lot of attention, that attention will fade away.”

In 1999, two Columbine High School students killed 13 individuals before they killed themselves. There had been mass shootings before that dark day, but this outrage unleashed an at-times-unhealthy rush to explain what would motivate teenagers to murder their classmates and then themselves.

In killing other teenagers indiscriminately, the Columbine shooters turned themselves into cult heroes for the twisted. The Virginia Tech undergraduate who killed 32 students in 2007 left a video in which he referred to the Columbine killers as “martyrs.”

In April, a former student opened fire at Oikos University in Oakland, Calif., leaving seven dead. Last year, a suspended college student critically wounded then-Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., during a political event in a shooting spree that left six dead. Also last year, a fanatic went on a killing spree in Oslo that left 77 dead; most of his victims were attending a summer youth camp.

One thing all of these men have in common: They allowed themselves to be taken alive. They were not suicidal.

The accused Oikos shooter has pleaded not guilty.

The alleged Arizona shooter also has pleaded not guilty. Diagnosed with schizophrenia, he is taking medication intended to make him mentally fit for trial.

Though the Norwegian mass murderer admitted to killing 77, he claimed to have acted in political self-defense. His trial is over. Next month, an Oslo court is expected to rule on whether he was legally insane when he set a bomb near the prime minister’s office and shot up the island summer camp.

There is a time and a place to examine who did what and why. But it is important to remember now that behind such senseless crimes, there was no reason. And just in case a quest for fame is a driver for these crimes, it’s better not to feed that beast.

Debra J. Saunders is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. Her email address is dsaunders@sfchronicle.com

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