Feb. 6, 2022

James Holmes // Part 3 // 96 // Mass Shooting

James Holmes // Part 3 // 96 // Mass Shooting

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.


The cell obviously had an area to go to the bathroom, but James pooped on the floor and began talking to himself. He believed people could read his thoughts and he wanted to hide them, so he started saying colors out loud: red, blue, green, red, then he pointed at random areas in his cell. When a member of the medical staff went to talk to James, they said he seemed really confused and didn't believe the person was even real. He wanted to shake their hand to make sure they were real, but this isn't allowed in prison for safety reasons. A few hours later, James was seen on camera running headfirst into the wall and he was found lying on the floor with the blanket over his face. A nurse was sent in to make sure he was ok, but he grabbed at her leg and she was removed from the cell. James paced his cell all night, then suddenly stopped and fell back to the floor. Nurses were sent to check on him and his eyes were fluttering. He appeared to be uninjured, but he was behaving erratically, so the nurses weren't able to really touch him. 

The next morning, James was lying naked on the floor and he was throwing his breakfast onto the drain toilet in the middle of the cell and he began licking the cell wall. He soon began jumping up and down trying to look out the small cell window that was high up. Staff members kept showing up and tried to talk to him, but he would stare blankly. He had stopped eating and drinking and medical staff members knew something was very wrong and he was saying strange things. A deputy asked if he was thirsty and he said, “I don't know where the water is.” When his next meal showed up, he flattened two paper cups, put his lunch meat in the middle, and ate it like a sandwich. Then, he started doing backward somersaults while trying to balance a paper cup on his penis. James was sent to the hospital for a CT scan, blood tests, and he received IV fluids. He didn't seem to remember the events that unfolded that day and when he was sent back to his cell, he was acting the same. 

So, this three days after James initially fell backwards off his bunk, he was spiraling even more. He was standing in his cell naked, crying, and unresponsive. He had feces caked between his toes and a nurse was sent to clean his feet. He again was seen on tape running headfirst into the wall. Surveillance shows him standing naked in the cell facing the wall. He presses his fingers against the wall, steps back, puts his arms behind his back and runs his head into the wall. He fell back, then sits up and rocks his back back and forth. It took about 6 minutes for guards to show up at the cell and when the doctor arrived, James yelled, “I see shadows! You're a shadow!” James was immobilized and strapped to a restraint chair. The medical staff said he had head trauma and he also had acute dehydration. He was given Lorazepam and an IV, but as soon as the medication wore off, he started acting very bizarre again. He refused all food and liquids over the next two days and spent almost all of his time lying naked on the floor and shivering without saying anything. 

Staff members were making plans to send James to the state mental hospital, but they ended up implementing the starvation protocol since he wasn't eating. They sent him to the hospital to be treated and his dehydration and starvation had caused very serious imbalances. Doctors noticed that he was extremely catatonic and suggested he had psychosis with a schizophrenia like disorder. After he was stabilized, he was given antipsychotic meds to calm him and James was finally able to sleep. Over the next five days he was able to eat and drink on his own and started talking again. He said he was hearing voices and grew suspicious of the jail food. He had been slamming his head into the wall to get rid of the bad thoughts. He said he was in jail because he pulled away from the people he knew and drank their blood. He explained that the blood wasn't his to take and he was being selfish. 

James had seen several psychiatrists during his 5 day stay in the hospital, but that just isn't enough time to diagnose a condition that's so severe. They were having trouble gathering enough evidence to verify, so they had to summarize his condition as psychosis not otherwise specified. It basically means he had been psychotic, but his symptoms didn't fit the typical criteria for specific disorders. He was sent back to jail with a prescription that is typically used for schizophrenia like symptoms and he was also given a medication for anxiety. Six weeks after he was released from the hospital, Dr. Mozer checked on James and he seemed depressed and discussed suicidal thoughts. The doctor prescribed an antidepressant for James and six days later, the staff reported that his eyes looked wild. It was made very clear that the DA planned to prosecute this case fully and seek the death penalty, so the defense was planning to highlight all of the odd behaviors so he could plead insanity. 

A doctor was sent to evaluate James regarding the insanity defense. When he was asked about the incident where he first fell backwards off his bed, he said that he expected the shadow would catch him. The doctor said James was very emotional and would cry and shake so hard that he was unable to talk. He got most upset when he talked about feeling hopeless and the hurt he caused to the family members of the people he killed. James explained that a master power had taken over his life and he wanted to end his life to stop the thoughts that were building for years, but he couldn't. He hoped that the people around him could stop him from killing people, but it didn't happen. After a series of tests, it was indicated that James had a superior IQ range. Dr. Gur reported that she was quite certain that James suffered from schizophrenia and the symptoms were evident and had greatly increased well before the shootings. She believed he was so removed from reality during the several weeks prior to the shootings that he was acutely psychotic and therefore had been insane at the time of the shootings, but it was determined that he was legally sane. Doctors can provide their opinion on this, but it must be decided upon by the jury. James did have serious mental illness, but he knew right from wrong and he understood that his actions were criminal. The judge ended up appointing someone else to evaluate James again and this was Dr. William H. Reid who is the author of the book I used.

Dr. Reid had a very different experience with James than the previous doctor. Dr. Gur had described James as sad, suicidal, and remorseful, but Dr. Reid didn't see any real emotion and James had bits of remorse. James talked about his consistent belief in human capital, but people can believe odd things without actually being delusional. He implied that he would possibly kill again if he got the chance and believed it was adding value or points to his life. We've talked about James having wild eyes before, but I want to discuss this further. Dr. Reid measured his pupil size and reaction to light several times and also checked his pulse. His pupils reacted, but didn't constrict completely. James said that the lights were not unusually bright for him and he didn't have blurry vision. When his pupils were enlarged, his pulse would be somewhat elevated. Then his pupils would get smaller, his pulse would go back to normal and this remained a complete mystery to everyone that examined him. Dr. Reid did come to a very similar conclusion as the previous doctor. Regardless of any mental disorders, James knew the killings were wrong and he knew that his psychiatrist would try to stop him if he talked about it during their sessions. He understood the consequences of his actions and chose to carryout the murders anyways. 

Dr. Reid actually explains how he arrived at this conclusion in the book. James told people before and after the shootings and even wrote in his notebook that he expected to be killed or arrested. He intentionally hid his plans because he didn't want someone to stop him. He even set all the bombs and traps in his apartment and bought road stars in case the police chased him. He specifically chose a location that would have a bunch of people gathering in a small area and planned out ways to make sure people didn't escape by handcuffing an exit door shut and using tear gas. He used gear to protect his body and made sure he stood away from the exit so no one harmed him. He faked a cell phone call in the theater so he could go get his equipment and it was all incredibly methodical. The primary diagnosis was schizotypal personality disorder. The sympoms of this could include the following:

-Being a loner or lacking close friends

-flat emotions

-Persistent and excessive social anxiety

-incorrect interpretation of events or believing everything has a personal meaning

-Eccentric or unusual thinking, beliefs, or mannerisms

-Unusual perceptions or having illusions

-Dressing in a way that appears unkempt

-unusual speaking patterns 

-Suspicious or paranoid thinking

Traits for this will typically appear by early adulthood, but are often seen in childhood or adolescence. There is no cure, but treatment can alleviate some of the symptoms. Dr. Reid was able to get information on the whole human capital belief system that James had. Accidental killings do not count towards one's value and neither do injuries. Someone has to die for a point to be added to one's value. If James was to be executed, the executioner would get a point, but that's only if they believe in the human capital system. There may for real have been a small part of James that DID want someone to stop him from murdering people. Not only did he send text messages to his friends that said he felt psychotic and didn't want to be put in a mental hospital, but he also went to a psychiatrist and called the mental health hotline while he was gearing up for the murders. It's possible that the part of him that wanted to do this was stronger than the part that wanted him to stop. 

As I read through the book and the different diagnoses that were given to James along the way, it seems that some of the things he said or wrote in his notebook couldn't be taken literally. You can't assume that the things he says are easily interpreted by normal standards. For example, he wrote in his notebook about his hatred for mankind. I would think it's fairly simple to know what a hatred for mankind means, but Dr. Reid asked James to explain this and he said it's kind of like hating broccoli. It's not a angry or passionate hate. James said he simply doesn't like eating broccoli, so he chooses to avoid it. He feels the same about mankind because he's different and would rather be alone. 

About 9,000 people were summoned for the jury pool and it took almost three months to choose 12 jurors and 12 alternates. It was a really difficult process to find people who had no relation to anyone that was in the theater on the night of the shooting and in Colorado, jurors must be open to the possibility of the death penalty in cases where its warranted. One woman asked to be excused and then fell to her knees crying and pulling her hair out. Another woman said she was clairvoyant and would use her skills during the trial to determine if James was truthful. They were both dismissed along with many other people that caused problems or showed up intoxicated. The media was barred from specific parts of the courthouse to make sure they weren't harassing victims or witnesses. Part of the second floor of the courthouse was converted to a mental health center for victims and their families. Counselors attended the trial to observe and help people testify. They also had a service dog present to give people support as well. 

During trial, one of the jurors gave a note to the Judge that said she had observed a breach of the rules involving another juror and possibly two others. For the next several hours, the judge had to question everyone involved. It turns out that there really was a breach. One of the jurors took a call from her husband who told her about a Facebook post and a tweet about the case from one of the lawyers. The juror put the call on speakerphone and at least two other jurors listened to the call where her husband read the Facebook post. Three jurors were dismissed from the trial. The one that slipped the note to the Judge was allowed to stay. Over the next 8 days, two more jurors were dismissed. One had a relative who was shot in a robbery attempt and the other knew one of the witnesses and failed to tell the Judge. 

Dr. Fenton, the psychiatrist James was seeing at school, was called to testify. She said that he had mentioned experiencing homicidal thoughts about 3-4 times a day, but he refused to provide any details. He didn't say that someone was a target of his, he didn't discuss plans, and he certainly didn't tell her he bought weapons. Dr. Fenton said that he purposefully withheld this information. James knew that her hands were tied and there was nothing she could do without evidence or additional information. She brought in a second psychiatrist, Dr. Feinstein in hopes that James would feel more comfortable opening up to a male doctor, but James quit his sessions before that could happen. One of the doctors had ordered an MRI of James's brain and this was compared against results of 79 healthy people that were studied in the past. It was concluded that James's brain had a slight, but statistically significant lack of temporal lobe tissue which affects many things such as: personality and processing sensory information. At the top front portion of the brain was lower in volume than that of 99% of the general population and this area controls: emotions, motivation, and it inhibits inappropriate behaviors.

Some people have always believed that the shootings happened because James had been put on a medication called Sertraline. There have been rare instances documented where people have seen negative effects that persist for up to two months on this drug, so it could have been possible. In the book, it's pointed out that James was asked two years later about the shootings and he still believed in the human capital system. Not only did he believe in it prior to being prescribed the medication, but he believed well after. Several of the doctors that evaluated James do believe that if he had been on the proper medications for his mental illness or if he didn't have any disorders at all, the shootings wouldn't have happened. Twelve people were killed and 70 were wounded. 

The trial lasted 10 weeks and the jury deliberated for 12 hours and James was found guilty of first degree murder for the 12 people that died in the shooting. He had shown very little emotion during trial and he declined to testify. The jury was not able to unanimously conclude that James be put to death, so the court would impose a life sentence. Only one juror refused the death penalty, but two of them were unsure due to the mental illness aspect. James was sentenced to 12 consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole and an additional total of 3,318 years in prison for 141 lesser included offenses. This was one of the longest sentences in US history. When the Judge finished reading the sentences, he said, “The defendant does not deserve any sympathy.” “Sheriff, get the defendant out of my courtroom, please.” 

In 2015 James was behind bars at the Colorado State penitentiary and he wasn't supposed to have any contact with other prisoners. A security gate was left open and an inmate named Mark Daniels who goes by Slim, took his opportunity. Prison officials were adamant that it was a minor incident, but James had to be secretly transferred out of state to an undisclosed locations. On October 8th, James had been walking out of the office of his case manager and a sliding gate was opened by a staff member who claimed he didn't realize that Slim was close by. So, Slim rushed through the door and started punching James in the head. There seems to be a bit of a discrepancy as to how this incident really went. Officers claim that it happened really fast, Slim punched James twice, punched a female officer, then it was all over. Slim said, “I'm so sorry I couldn't wipe him out and send him packing to Satan's lake of fire. It was just impossible to do by myself with so many cops. I did get him six or seven good ones. He was very scared.” James is now in U.S. Penetentiary Allenwood, a high security facility in Central Pennsylvania.

On December 4th, 2015, another hearing was held to discuss restitution to cover the financial costs for the victims, the families, and the Colorado Victim Compensations Fund. James was ordered to pay $851,000 to reimburse the state fund and $103,000 to the victims. Interest on the amount will accrue, and it could increase with future eligible expenses. A portion of the money that James earns in prison can be taken by the state of Colorado and money can be taken from his prison accounts as well. James has been sent several hundred dollars during the trial and had almost $5k in his jail account by the time he was sentenced. 

On July 20th, 2017, at 12:18 AM, the names of the people that were murdered in the shootings were read as white balloons were released. A crowd of people walked toward Aurora's 7/20 Reflection Memorial Garden where a procession of law enforcement officers arrived to a loud applause by the community.


Jonathan Blunk age 26 was in the Navy and had hopes of becoming a Navy Seal. He was going to visit his daughters in a few days, but he threw himself in front of a friend and saved her life.

John Larimer age 27 Petty officer 3rd class was a Navy sailor from Illinois who was only weeks away from returning home to his family.

Jesse Childress age 29 was in the Military. He was an Airforce cyber systems operator. 

Alexander J Boik age 18 had just graduated from High school and was planning to start college in the fall. He attended the movie with his girlfriend and she survived. 

Gordon Cowden age 51 took his two teenage daughters to the movie. His girls survived and he was described as a true Texas gentleman. 

Jessica Ghawi (Gowi) Redfield age 24 had just moved to Colorado to chase her dream as a sports writer. Seven weeks earlier, she left the food court just minutes prior to the Toronto Eaton Centre shooting. She wrote a blog about this experience and said she was reminded that you don't know where or when your time will end.

Matt McQuinn age 27 shielded his girlfriend from the bullets and she survived

Micayla Medek age 23 was described as a vibrant woman and she was a college student that went to the movie with 6 of her friends.

Alex Sullivan age 27 was celebrating his birthday and first wedding anniversary. His Irish family told stories of him for 6.5 hours at his wake and each story was followed by a shot of Jameson

Alexander Teves (Tee-vs) age 24 had just earned his masters degree from the University of Denver. He covered his girlfriend's head and saved her life.

Rebecca Wingo age 31 was a mother of two daughters and a former member of the airforce working towards a degree. Her friends say she had a gentle, beautiful, and sweet soul.

Veronica Moser (Mojer)-Sullivan age 6 was a vibrant young girl who had just learned how to swim and graduated from Kindergarten. Her mother, Ashley was also shot and didn't know for two days that her daughter had died. Ashley was pregnant and was shot in the stomach. Her unborn child ended up being the 13th victim of the shooting.

Aurora now has a monument to the lives lost in the 2012 Aurora Theater Shooting. There is a sculpture of 83 large metal birds dedicated to both the victims and the survivors. The foundation wanted a memorial that focused on “nature, transformation and symbols of hope.” The sculpture is designed to have a message of lightness coming out of a darkness. 70 white cranes represent those that were injured. They fly towards each other and connect with 13 silver cranes with frosted wings that fly up towards the sky. The other 13 symbolize the lives that were lost. Sealed inside the bellies of each crane is a canister of notes from the community. The cranes are all from different places, but they come together and rise up in the middle. It's not political, it's a message of positivity and healing. 


Schizotypal personality disorder - Symptoms and causes - Mayo Clinic

Exclusive: Inside the Prison Assault on Aurora Theater Shooter James Holmes - ABC News (go.com)

A Dark Night In Aurora Inside James Holmes And The Colorado Mass Shootings by William H. Reid

Vigil: Aurora honors theater shooting victims (thedenverchannel.com)

James Holmes | Criminal Minds Wiki | Fandom

Remembering the Aurora movie theater shooting victims - Bing video

Aurora shooting victim Ashley Moser, shot in the belly, was pregnant with a child who also survived the attack: report - New York Daily News (nydailynews.com)

Aurora’s Memorial To The 2012 Theater Shooting Takes Flight | Colorado Public Radio (cpr.org)