I myself can remember being a teenager and sitting at home in a San Diego suburb on a July afternoon in 1984, watching the unfolding news about a nearby shooting spree. I desperately worried that my mother, who was out, might have gone to that McDonald's, just a few miles away in San Ysidro, for a bite. (She hadn't.)
Years later, I'd have another distant connection to a similar tragedy. A newspaper co-worker of mine would get a job in Denver and suffer emotional scars from the wrenching task of covering the Columbine attacks.
Cullen, who helps journalists recover from the trauma of reporting on tragedy, wrote a commentary for the New York Times last Sunday about the importance of not rushing to conclusions about the Aurora gunman: "Resist the temptation to extrapolate details prematurely into a whole."
I called Cullen to ask him about how we can best understand the horror in Aurora, what we can learn from Columbine and where we can find hope amid the senseless.
Q: The perpetrators of these acts often seem to want to become famous. Is the media wrong to give them the very publicity they may crave?
A: Every case is different, and it's a little difficult to generalize. And I think "publicity" is the wrong word.
They are reaching for attention in a lot of cases, lashing out and wanting the world to see their pain. It's like "goodbye cruel world" – "you'll see now what you did to me and you'll understand." It's a different emotion than we get from the word "publicity." It's not so much a celebrity thing.
But I do like the idea of mentioning their names as little as possible. I'd like to see more people take that up and see where we can go with that.