The shootings at the Aurora Century 16 theater continue to dominate the news of the nation. But amid the release of victim's names and more details about suspect James Holmes's booby-trapped apartment, most mainstream outlets are either ignoring or downplaying alleged photos of the suspect with dyed-red hair and accompanying reports about dating-site profiles. Why?
The most likely answer: Major TV outlets, daily newspapers and the like are doing their best to avoid circulating bogus information of the sort that was widely disseminated in the wake of the 1999 Columbine tragedy. As such, they're moving ahead with an abundance of caution in regard to separate TMZ posts suggesting that Holmes had profiles on AdultFriendFinder and Match.com. And they're taking it slow when it comes to accompanying photos that appear to show his hair dyed red, presumably in homage to the Joker, the Batman villain he may or may not have claimed to be upon his arrest following the assault at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises.
Of course, TMZ insists that its sources are credible. The first story linked above asserts that AdultFriendFinder has traced the IP address in question to Holmes. Here's a screen shot of the page:
The profile supposedly features Holmes describing his penis as "short/average" and his alcohol consumption as "light/social," and avoids a question about drug use. The tagline: "Will you visit me in prison."
According to TMZ, the Match.com item is tagged the same way, while describing Holmes's favorite movies (Star Wars is among them), most beloved book (Where's Waldo?) and stating, "I spend a lot of time thinking about the future. Mind = blown." Here's a screen shot of that page, featuring the same photo:
Convincing? Not necessarily -- and because the Aurora Police Department has declined to answer questions about Holmes's hair color and hadn't contacted AdultFriendFinder as of Saturday's publication of the TMZ item, these reports are being mentioned toward the bottom of most articles from the traditional media, if at all.
This seems like the proper balance to strike at this point. To pretend that the information isn't circulating through social media at the speed of a "Like" button makes little sense in this day and age. But automatically giving it credence before police vet the information is as risky as it is irresponsible.
Besides, we'll have no doubt about Holmes's hair color following his first court appearance later this morning.
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Update, 11:38 a.m. July 23: James Holmes does indeed sport boldly dyed hair, as Melanie Asmar saw firsthand during his step into public view since the mass slaying at the Century 16. Click to read her complete coverage of the accused Aurora theater shooting suspect's first court appearance.
More from our News archive: "Aurora theater shooting at The Dark Knight Rises: Jessica Ghawi, news intern, ID'd as victim."