|Mourners at the memorial
service in Aurora, |
Washington, July 21: Even the mother of James Holmes, the withdrawn PhD student who gunned down 12 persons and wounded 59 at a Colorado movie theatre yesterday, seems to have been unsurprised that her 24-year-old son had committed such an atrocity.
Arlene Rosemary Holmes, a registered nurse, was woken at her home in San Diego, California, by a call from ABC News soon after the midnight attack. “You have the right person,” she said. “I need to call the police.... I need to fly out to Colorado.”
But some other relatives, friends and former teachers from Holmes’s pre-Colorado days expressed disbelief at the charges against a man they described as a “normal” guy and “brilliant” science student. Current neighbours and a teacher, though, painted the picture of a shadowy “loner” who carried guns to and from his apartment block in Denver’s suburb of Aurora.
Wearing a gas mask and head-to-toe body armour, the 6-foot-3 Holmes had hurled a gas canister and opened fire during a premiere of the new Batman movie in Aurora. Witnesses quoted him as saying “I am the Joker” — the villain in the Batman franchise.
“It clearly looks like a deranged individual,” New York police chief Ray Kelly said. “He had his hair painted red; he said he was the Joker.”
The neuroscience graduate from California was apparently doing poorly at the University of Colorado-Denver and was in the process of dropping out of the PhD programme, which he started in June 2011. He is said to have taken a class on psychiatric disorders a few weeks ago.
His only known trouble with the law previously was a speeding ticket he collected last October: the FBI has found no terrorist links or criminal record. In the past 60 days, though, he had bought four guns legally at local gun shops, the police said.
The guns Holmes bought were two Glock pistols, a 12-gauge shotgun and a high-powered AR-15 assault rifle fitted with a drum magazine that allowed a fire rate of 50 to 60 rounds a minute. He also bought over 6,000 rounds of ammunition through the Internet, the police said.
A university lecturer described Holmes as “very quiet, strangely quiet in class” and “socially off”. He said he was not surprised to discover Holmes had been accused of the shooting.
“He was always wearing camouflage pants and a hat,” said neighbour Gabriel Macias, who recalled seeing Holmes carrying guns and weapon cases to and from his apartment. “We did not know him well because he talked to nobody. He was always locked up behind his door.”
Another neighbour, Ben Leung, 27, said: “Nobody really knew him. He wouldn’t acknowledge you when you passed him in the corridor.”
Holmes is believed to have joined a casual sex website, AdultFriendFinder, on July 5 where he apparently hinted at his plans, asking potential suitors: “Will you visit me in prison?”
Under the username “classicjimbo”, he said he was “looking for a fling or casual sex gal. Am a nice guy. Well, as nice enough of a guy who does these sort of shenanigans (sic)”.
He appears to have left little record of his thoughts or activities online, with no Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Myspace accounts under his name. Some websites speculated he held extreme Left-wing views and may have been an anti-capitalist protester.
The police refused to speculate on motive, saying the suspect had clammed up.
Holmes, arrested in the cinema car park with all his four guns, is expected to appear at a Colorado court on Monday. He did not resist arrest and told officers he had booby-trapped his car and his apartment with explosives to create even more damage.
J. Holmes, an uncle of the suspect, said he was “blown away” by the news. He described the younger James as “an unassuming kid” and a “nerd”.
Tom Mai, the Holmes’s neighbour in San Diego, said: “I’d see him washing the car for his parents, he was a typical American boy. He was a good guy.”
One of Holmes’s former tutors, who worked with him on a gene therapy project at the University of California, said he had been an exceptional student who coped easily with complicated science.
Describing his grasp of complex methodology as “impressive, compared to other undergraduates I worked with before”, Hongxia Wang said: “I had a great time working with him. He was nice, easy-going and liked to share his opinions with others.”
Timothy White, from the University of California, said: “Academically he was the top of the top… graduating with highest honours.”
Jessica Cade, 23, a graduate student, lived in the same honours dorm as Holmes and said she would occasionally go out with him and friends.
“He was a very nice guy. He was very, very smart; a little weird — kind of like you’d expect a really smart guy to be,” Cade said. “They’re calling him ‘deranged’ and a ‘lunatic’. Never in a million years would that have crossed my mind.”
At his San Diego school, Westview, Holmes had friends and played sports. A soccer photo shows him looking confidently into the camera wearing his No. 16 jersey.
Sumit Shah, a school friend, said: “He was pretty shy, but once he got comfortable with you, he was the funniest, smartest guy…. He always had something witty to say. He was never aggressive or mean. He seemed pretty normal.”
Another fellow Westview student, who asked not to be identified, said Holmes had a “dark, sarcastic kind of humour” but that he never “read it as psychotic”. He said: “Looking back, I guess he was dorky, and so was I.”
Holmes, born on December 13, 1987, grew up in a quiet, middle-class community in San Diego. Two-storey, Spanish-style tract homes line both sides of the street, all white stucco with red tile roofs and well-kept lawns.
Neighbours described the family as regular churchgoers and said they had lived in the area for at least 10 years.
“The parents are really, really nice people,” Mary Aguilar said. “This is the last thing you’d expect.”
On the family’s request for protection, police have been posted outside their home.
The police took Holmes’s father, a software engineer, to Colorado yesterday morning. The family later released a statement asking the media to respect their privacy.
“Our hearts go out to those who were involved in this tragedy and to the families and friends of those involved,” it read. “We are still trying to process this information.”