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Editorial: Family's generosity shines at Kings Point

An aerial view of the United States Merchant

An aerial view of the United States Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

In an admirable act of grace, the family of a U.S. Merchant Marine Academy midshipman whose father was killed last month in the movie-theater massacre in Colorado, said a professor's thoughtless joke about the shooting shouldn't be a firing offense. Academy officials should heed the family's counsel.

The professor, identified in news accounts as Gregory Sullivan, has been on paid administrative leave since, upon dimming the lights to show a documentary, he said, "If someone with orange hair appears in the corner of the room, run for the exit."

James Holmes, accused of killing 12 people and wounding 58 others July 20 when he opened fire in a crowded theater in Aurora, Colo., had dyed his hair bright orange before the rampage.

Sullivan apparently didn't know that Weston Cowden, who was in the classroom when he made the joke, had lost his father in the attack. Once he was told, Sullivan immediately sought Cowden out and apologized for his insensitivity.

"It was a dumb mistake," Cowden's mother Melisa told Newsday Tuesday. "I've made plenty of dumb mistakes in my life. This professor has suffered enough." She's right.

Who among us hasn't said something inappropriate and wished we could take it back the moment it was out of our mouths? The pain the joke caused Weston Cowden is regrettable. But it shouldn't be a career-ending offense, and it's generous of the Cowden family to say so.