James Eagan Holmes is a mass murderer responsible for the 2012 Aurora, Colorado shooting at a Century 16 movie theater on July 20th, 2012. He didn't have any known criminal background prior to the shooting, but his behavior was very erratic. Before the shooting, James built homemade bombs and booby-trapped his apartment. He was sentenced to 12 consecutive life sentences plus 3,318 years without parole.
James Eagan Holmes was born on December 13th, 1987 in Scripps Memorial Hospital, La Jolla (La hoy-a), California. He was named after his paternal uncle and his mother's family name was added on. For most of his childhood, he was referred to as Jimmy, but eventually started going by James and that's what he was known by when the mass shooting happened. James's mother, Arlene, was a nurse at Scripps Memorial when her son was born. Her husband, Bob was a statistician at the nearby Navy Personnel Center. The two of them met at Berkley when Arlene was working on her degree before going to nursing school and Bob had gotten a master's at UCLA and completed his PhD in statistics. A few relatives on both sides of their families had problems with alcohol or minor emotional conditions. At least three were diagnosed with more serious mental disorders that required some type of hospitalization.
Bob's twin sister, Betty, developed severe mental illness early in life and Bob says it was something they never really talked about. He believed his sister had some variety of schizophrenia. Bob's father had notable symptoms of something, especially later in his life. His military records show that he had psychiatric evaluations and he was once admitted to the Monterey Peninsula Community Hospital for “disabling obsessive-compulsive disorder”. Arlene's father, Burt Eagan, was hospitalized during midlife for depression and psychosis and he ended up dying when James was four. So, they clearly had mental health issues on both sides of the family, but it wasn't something that people talked about. James grew up in a happy family and he remembers getting lots of hugs. His parents modeled values of education, initiative, and being a close family. When James was little, he loved hugs, laughed a lot, and never showed any problems in kindergarten or elementary school. When he was five years old, his baby sister, Chris was born and James was a great big brother.
When James was about 7, the family moved to Salinas, California to be closer to his father's mother. Bob and Arlene were slightly concerned about James's behavior when he was 8 and they brought him to a counselor. He was doing fine in school, but he was very Nintendo-oriented, threw his stuffed animals sometimes, and he wasn't socializing well. Records show that James was quiet and didn't really communicate during his first visit, but he played well with his sister. The counselor made a few recommendations about discipline and discussed the differences between Bob and Arlene's parenting styles. Within 3 visits, they said there were great improvements with James and everything seemed to be back to normal, so they stopped counseling. During the first few years in Oak Hills, James was always on the honor roll and he was described as: intelligent, smiling, active, helpful, sweet, friendly, considerate, and popular.
Bob and Arlene worked hard to make memories with their family and the took a lot of trips together. They went to Disneyland, the beach, skiing, and camping trips. They were the kind of family that had dinner together every night and went to concerts or sports events. Bob even coached the soccer team that James was on and his mother would be there handing out oranges. Bob was conservative, mathematical, and analytical. He was always thinking and came off a bit socially awkward. Bob and James were quiet and neither of them were good at talking about feelings. Arlene was more creative, open, and free. They both loved each other and made sure they never fought in front of their kids. James was always very gentle with his sister Chris and she looked up to her big brother. When the kids in the neighborhood got together for games, James always made sure the younger kids got to play too. He didn't want anyone to feel left out. He also protected the little kids from the bigger ones and had a way of making them always feel safe.
When James about about 10 years old, he started seeing recurring pictures of nuclear bombs in his head. They only seemed to happen when he was by himself, not when he was around others. He decided to keep the thoughts to himself and knew this wasn't normal, but figured it wasn't a big deal at the time. Eventually, Bob and Arlene decided to move back home. They had lived in Oak Hills for five years and it didn't make sense anymore. Arlene missed her family and her mother was sick. Bob and Arlene weren't in love with the schools and Bob got a job offer with a San Diego software company. The decision to move happened very quickly and they would leave about two weeks before the end of the school year. So, James would go to his new school for two weeks and he hated this, but no one listened to him. On moving day, Chris, who was 7, had her face against the window, tears pouring down her face, and she was screaming as they drove away. James sat in the back, silently. He tore a piece of cardboard from a box and scraped it against his wrist as they drove. Later, Arlene did notice marks on James's wrist, but he said it was a paper cut because he wanted to keep things private.
Bob and Arlene hoped that James would make fast friends in the two weeks at his new school. Then, he could hangout with the kids all summer and have an easier time when he started 7th grade. Instead, James didn't make any friends and ended up staying in his room reading and playing video games all summer. Arlene brought James around the neighborhood and they met all of the families. Nothing seemed to work, so she even tried bringing her son to the local comic book store. She was hoping that they would find other kids who were into the same fantasy games, but he just liked to play online games by himself. When school started, things were looking up a bit. James did make some friends and he joined the school band and played soccer. He got into a strategy card game called Magic: The Gathering and his parents were pumped that he played it with real people, like in person and he finally had a best friend, Earl. After this whole story unfolded, Earl said that he doesn't believe they were necessarily best friends. They hung out and were into the same things, but James was quiet and soft-spoken. It was hard to get to know him and Earl said that James only ever went to his house once.
Even though James made some friends at his new school, it just wasn't like the friends he had previously. He went from being quite popular and playing outside every night at his old home, to hiding in his room and barely talking talking. His parents were concerned and decided they should try counseling again. In October of 2001 when James was 14, he started his family counseling sessions. He was very isolated and seemed to be really moody and angry at home. Arlene said things got so bad that he couldn't even make a phone call by himself anymore and this was abnormal. Arlene had rehearsed making a phone call with her son, but when it came time for him to actually make a call for real, he just went silent and couldn't do it. As the kids grew older, Bob and Arlene continued to make time for their family. They were very loving towards each other and never fought in front of the kids. The family attended church every Sunday, they would go out for donuts or Taco Bell afterwards. James volunteered to help with vacation Bible school and church gardening.
When James entered high school, the thoughts and mental images were evolving and getting worse, but he didn't tell anyone. He was still getting really good grades and was even taking advanced placement courses and played football during lunch. Even though he was shy and very socially awkward, he did go out and do things with groups of people. He would go swimming, go to the movies, and played paintball. He even played junior varsity soccer. Most people thought that James was fine, it was an awkward stage that he would grow out of, but he wasn't fine. He was terrified that the anger inside of him would get out of control and might hurt others and drive them away from him. As his head was filling up more and more with the dark fantasies, people noticed he was becoming more withdrawn. If there was any sort of confrontation or even if he imagined one, James would stop talking or moving. He says he would just freeze and couldn't think or feel when he did this. His mind would just stop. Later, the freezing episodes evolved. Instead of his mind going blank, he would see images of people getting their heads cut off. He would see a saw being used on someone, but it was a floating saw. He didn't see an image of himself running the saw, so he didn't believe it was a desire he was seeing.
Since James was experiencing violent thoughts and couldn't talk to people, he knew he was different. H knew something was wrong with his brain, he was very aware of this, but didn't believe it was mental illness. He was so interested in his brain, that he started studying neuroscience. He applied to many California universities during his senior year and was accepted to all of them and even got a full-ride scholarship to the University of California, Riverside, honors program. He applied for and won a position in an extremely competitive summer internship program at San Diego Miramar (Mirror-a-mar) College. He went to a science boot camp for a week to prepare for the lab work and then he spent 7 weeks in a lab. His main job was writing computer code for an experiment that was related to a human's perception of time. This later blew up in the media as a time travel thing and that's just not true. They were trying to make him sound crazy. Even though James had been horribly shy and awkward, there's video that shows the complete opposite. After the research was complete, he had to give a speech to a large audience and he was described as poised, confident, and humorous during his 10 minute presentation.
James started his freshman year of college living in the honors section and then he moved to an on-campus apartment for the next two years. He went home to see his family for the summer and for the holidays, but he didn't really communicate with them much outside of that. James did end up finding a group of friends and he really liked the dorm atmosphere. He found people that had similar interests and they played video games, World of Warcraft, and watched Lost every week. James wasn't really into aggressive video games and didn't like first-person-shooter type games. He and his friends went on snowboarding trips and none of them saw any signs of mental illness with James. It later came out in the media that James was obsessed with the Joker in Batman and his friends say he never talked about Batman or the Joker. Since he had received a full scholarship and his parents paid for his dorm and other expenses, James really got to enjoy the entire college experience without having to worry about getting a job.
During college, he didn't really party or date. He says he was interested in women, but never really asked anyone out. He did work at a summer camp and went out with one of the counselors, but nothing happened. They saw a movie and walked around Hollywood and went near the dance clubs, but didn't go inside. The honors program required that community service, so James signed up to go to an orphanage to spend the day with children and he actually liked this because he was good with kids. Two years after graduating from UC Riverside is when James began planning the mass shooting. He deliberately chose a place that would have more adults than children. The Century 16 Cinema most likely wouldn't have small kids if he went at midnight. He was obsesses with thinking about all of his flaws and he just didn't think it was right to put all of his time and effort into studying to improve himself and get a good job. He wanted to use his knowledge to understand why he was so different. When he was studying to get good grades, it kept some of the violent thoughts away.
During his senior year, James applied to 8 university graduate schools with doctoral neuroscience programs. His grades were fantastic, just under a 4.0 and his reference letters were really good. The only problem was the personal statements James himself wrote. He said things like he used his clairvoyance to solve difficult problems, he invoked the infinite vastness of indefinite knowledge, or our own minds are the primary source of all things. James was only offered an interview for one graduate program, but he was ultimately turned down. After graduation, James moved back in with his parents and applied for several science related jobs, but he didn't get a job. He started sleeping in late, watching TV, and playing lots of video games. His mother, Arlene was getting pretty upset with this. He had just worked his ass off to graduate and he had a group of friends, now he was isolated again and he wasn't contributing to the household. Arlene and Bob told James that you either get a job, or you need to leave.
James did get a temporary job through a staffing agency where he was operating a pill-coating machine. He ended up quitting after 3 months and started applying to graduate schools again. He sent applications to 6 schools with neuroscience programs and was offered interviews with 4, but he withdrew the application for one of them. The interviewer at the University of Iowa graduate school said Jame's application looked like one of those slam dunk cases on paper. It was everything they were looking for until they interviewed him. They wrote comments such as bizarre, disconnected, lack of effort, and aloof. An Iowa psychology professor met with James and told the admissions group not to admit him under any circumstances. Here's the thing. Many students that are studying neuroscience do seem eccentric or a bit strange. He ended up getting an offer from Denver and he would receive a tuition waiver and would receive a stipend of $26k a year, so he accepted this offer. His father, Bob was so pumped about this and offered to do a father son trip to drive him out to Aurora and James was like, pass. Instead, he packed up his car and drove himself.
James liked studying neuroscience and he did have to put down a few gerbils which was described as a humane and regulated procedure to prepare their brain for exams and experiments. There doesn't appear to be any indication that he was overjoyed about killing the animals. He found a group of people to hangout with and they would play board games, eating, hiking, and going to the movies at the Century 16. He even met a girl that he liked and she invited him to a horror film festival and she was his first and only girlfriend, but she wasn't interested in a long-term commitment. James and his girlfriend went with some friends to a few gun shops one day. Their friend Tim was a recreational shooter and he did find one he wanted to buy and he showed it to the group. James didn't appear to have any interest in the gun and held it incorrectly and was surprised at the pistol's weight. Over winter break, James got mono and had a pretty mild case of it, but it was used as the new excuse for his lack of interest at school. His grades and interest in tasks had already been declined well before he got mono.
In February, his girlfriend said she didn't see a future with him and broke things off and around this time, he began seeing things that weren't really there. He saw shadows flickering out of the corner of his eyes and he could now only communicate with his parents through email, no phone calls. His ex-girlfriend was in the same friend group, so they decided to remain friends and she noticed a shift in his moods and conversations. She told James that he should talk to a therapist and he decided to do that. On March 16th, he visited Margaret Roath and described his anxiety that he experienced around people and public speaking and talked about his ex-girlfriend. He said he didn't trust anyone and had a habit of pulling his hair out, but said he couldn't talk about anything else because he didn't want to be reported. The counselor said it was really difficult to talk to James because he would stare for long periods of time without answering questions. The counselor didn't believe James was dangerous and diagnosed him with obsessive compulsive disorder and he was referred to a psychiatrist, Lynne Fenton. She sent an email with her recommendations to Lynne and said he is the most anxious guy I have ever seen and has symptoms of OCD. But, most concerning is that he has thoughts of killing people, though I do not think he is dangerous. He said he did not want to tell me everything he was experiencing as I might have to report.
James met with Dr. Fenton on March 21st and said he was there for a variety of reasons. He had anxiety, depression, decreased energy, and trouble concentrating. He said things had gotten worse after the breakup and the doctor noted that James had poor eye contact and an odd thought process. James told Dr. Fenton about the thoughts of killing and said that it was worse than ever since the breakup. He wanted to kill everyone, but knew that wasn't possible. He said he didn't actually have specific plans to murder and Dr. Fenton concluded that he had OCD, social phobia, and there was a possibility of schizoid (skee-zoid) personality disorder. This is an uncommon condition where people avoid social activities and interactions with others and may lack emotions or motivation to accomplish things. Dr. Fenton prescribed medication that would help with anxiety and depression and James was scheduled to return a week later.
After the appointment, James was texting his ex, Gargi (Gar-gee) and the messages were getting really dark. He told her he wanted to do something really evil and kill people, but there's no way to do it and not get caught. He talked about an idea he had about human capital. He explained to Gargi that some people can make a million dollars and others make $100k, but life is priceless. If you take a life away, your human capital is limitless. If you take that away from people, you have prevented their purpose and makes your life more meaningful by increasing human capital. Gargi was used to James saying some dark things that he thought were humorous, but this had taken a new turn and she had no idea what he was talking about with this whole human capitol thing. She encouraged James to tell his psychiatrist about these thoughts and he said he was already doing that. He was also texting his friend Ben and saying he believed he was a psychotic being and said he was having psychotic delusions. At the third appointment with his psychiatrist, James said he was feeling less anxious, but he was tired and having trouble remembering things, so his medications were adjusted. Two days after the appointment, he found out he got an A in his neuroscience course and this was a huge accomplishment.
By the next month, he was suddenly able to talk to women. Not only did he create a profile on Match.com, but he started texting a girl from his class and it was very flirtatious. He asked Hillary if she wanted to go hiking with him and she was really excited. James picked her up, they hiked, had snacks, and made plans to study for their exams together. At his next appointment, Dr. Fenton accidentally sent his prescription to the pharmacy with the wrong name. She wrote James Hughes, instead of James Holmes. The pharmacist caught the error and they got it fixed, but James sent an email to Dr. Fenton that said it caused an inconvenience and he used symbols that were fists punching someone in the eye. She asked James if they could get a second opinion. She wanted to bring another psychiatrist to their next meeting and he feared that she was trying to have him locked up.
James bought his first weapon through Amazon and it was a taser that looked like a cell phone. He also purchased a large Smith & Wesson folding knife. He attempted to purchase a handgun from an online Wisconsin company as well. His credit card was charged, but it was never delivered. Shortly after this, he bought two grenade style canisters of Clear Out tear gas and he bought a high-end gas mask with a special air filter. On May 22nd, he went to a local Gander Mountain sporting goods store and used his real name for all of his purchases and used a credit card to get a handgun. In May, the university provided students with 3 to 4 weeks of open time so they can prepare for their exams. James didn't study at all because he felt that the subject matter was too broad to study effectively and he had made up his mind that he wanted to focus solely on his mission to murder. On May 28th, he went to a local Bass Pro Shop and purchased a second firearm.
He attended his next appointment with Dr. Fenton and her door was locked when he had to wait. This was something she typically did, but James had never arrived early before and experienced this. Once he entered the room, he saw a bag sitting by her desk and believed she was afraid of him and had a taser. This wasn't the first time he had been thrown off during a session. During one appointment, the doctor wore a sling on their arm and James assumed it was fake and they were testing his empathy and he suspected a knife was hidden in the sling. He was very paranoid, but let Dr. Fenton know that he was playing about 100 hours of video games per week and he was not studying at all for his exams. He hated people that behaved like sheep and he referred to them as sheeple. He said he had done some reading lately on the Unabomber and about the Tylenol product tampering murders. He also shared many viewpoints with a nineteenth century philosopher. He believed that there are no absolutes when it comes to ethics, morals, or knowledge. It all depends on each person's individual viewpoint. The doctor was highly concerned, but it's very difficult to have an adult hospitalized against their will, so there wasn't anything that could really be done at this point. James later purchased handcuffs, some road stars, and first aid supplies from an online store. Road stars are small, jagged pieces of metal that are used to stop cars by blowing out their tires. On June 7th, James took his exams that he never studied for. Afterwards, he went to Gander Mountain and purchased a Smith & Wesson rifle. The next day, James received an email that his professor needed to meet with him because he had failed the exams. The university was going to allow him to retake them in a few weeks and they were confident that the could pass, but James said he didn't want to and he quit graduate school right then and there.
After quitting school, James had to attend a meeting with counselors and he confirmed that he was done. Dr. Fenton said that even though he withdrew, he could still continue treatment through the summer at little or no cost. They also wanted to get permission to speak with his friends and family, but James declined. Dr. Fenton decided to take further measures because she felt that something was really wrong in this situation. She called the CU Denver Beta which is a threat assessment team who investigates and finds ways to deal with someone who is a significant danger to others. She also contacted professors that worked with James to see if there was knowledge of any threats. The threat assessment team determined that James didn't have a criminal record or weapon permits, so the investigation was dropped. Dr. Fenton even called James's parents, Bob and Arlene. She asked them if he had been violent, but didn't mention his thoughts about killing people. Dr. Fenton was technically breaking the patient, doctor confidentiality since James denied her permission to contact people. Arlene was very concerned, but not surprised. She said that her son had always been awkward and said James was actually very angry at her for threatening to kick him out of the house when he moved back in and wouldn't get a job.
A Dark Night In Aurora Inside James Holmes And The Colorado Mass Shootings by William H. Reid