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Professor suspended for making Aurora theater joke in front of victim’s son

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James E. Holmes

James E. Holmes at his first court appearance Monday, July 23, 2012.

KINGS POINT, N.Y. — A professor at the United States Merchant Marine Academy has been suspended and may be dismissed for making what he thought was a harmless joke about the Aurora theater tragedy.

The thing he didn’t know? The father of one of his students was among the victims.

The New York Times is reporting that the joke came from Gregory F. Sullivan as he was dimming the lights in his classroom and preparing to show a documentary film.

Before he stepped out, Sullivan fatefully quipped, “If someone with orange hair appears in the corner of the room, run for the exit.”

On Aug. 10, the Times reported, the academy on Long Island informed Sullivan that he had 10 days to contest his dismissal. He is currently a tenured humanities professor.

The identity of the academy student whose father was a victim of the attack by suspected gunman James E. Holmes, who has dyed reddish-orange hair, was not given in the Times report.

It seems reasonable to suspect, however, that the student was the son of Gordon Cowden, 51, the oldest of the 12 killed in the movie theater. It has been reported that Cowden’s son is attending the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.

Sullivan has apologized to his students and faculty, but declined to comment to The Times.

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