The suspect in the deadliest U.S. shooting in three years is a 24-year-old honor student who grew up in California, was dropping out of graduate school and may have planned the attack for at least two months, officials said.
James Holmes was arrested in the Denver, Colorado, suburb of Aurora early yesterday in the parking lot of the theater showing the new Batman movie, where he fatally shot at least 12 people and wounded 58, police said.
Holmes was withdrawing from the University of Colorado Denver’s graduate program in neurosciences after enrolling about a year earlier, according to the school. He is formerly of San Diego County, where his parents still live in a two-story home with a Spanish tile roof.
The suspect lived in a three-story brick building about a block from the medical school on the corner of 17th Avenue and Peoria Street, a major thoroughfare, in an Aurora neighborhood that residents said was known for car break-ins and bar brawls.
Ben Leung, 27, lives two floors below the suspect. Though the two never spoke, Leung said he had a friend who once tried to say hello to the suspect and received no response.
“He didn’t seem like a guy who stood out,” Leung said in an interview as he stood near yellow police tape blocking access to the building.
Leung said he was among building residents, some in pajamas, whom police evacuated at about 2 a.m. local time. A couple living below Holmes called police before the evacuation complaining about loud music from the suspect’s apartment, Leung said.
Holmes is a shy, intelligent person raised in a family that belonged to a Presbyterian church and hosted a Christmas party for residents, according to the Associated Press, which cited neighbors and others who knew him. The suspect, who has a younger sister, played soccer as a teenager and ran cross country, AP reported. His father manages a software company and his mother is a nurse, the news service said.
Holmes earned a bachelor’s degree with honors in neuroscience in 2010 from the University of California, Riverside, said Timothy P. White, the school’s chancellor. Holmes, who attended the school on a merit scholarship, had no run-ins with campus police, White said.
“He obviously, academically, had the capability to do just about anything he wanted,” White said of Holmes in a news conference yesterday, adding that he was at “the top of the top” academically.
Police described explosive devices found at Holmes’s apartment yesterday as “pretty sophisticated.”
Following his graduation from college he returned home and had trouble finding work, eventually landing a part-time job at McDonald’s, the Denver Post reported. Holmes described himself as a “quiet and easy-going” student in an apartment rental application he submitted early last year, according to the newspaper. A poster of Will Farrell in the movie “Anchorman” was hanging on the kitchen wall in his current apartment, it said, citing a neighbor.
Holmes had a workspace in one of the Denver school’s research towers on its medical campus until mid-June. Thousands of employees were sent home this afternoon so that police and police dogs could sweep the buildings. Nothing suspicious was found, said Jacque Montgomery, a university spokeswoman.
Holmes’s parents have asked for police assistance, said San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne, whose force is working with Aurora authorities.
“The parents have asked us to build a fence, so to speak, so they have time to react to what has happened,” Lansdowne said in a television interview. “Right now, they are going through a difficult time and they need some space to grasp what their son has done.”
Officials at Westview High School north of San Diego confirmed that Holmes graduated in 2006 as part of the school’s first graduating class. The suspect’s parents’ home is about two miles from the school.
San Diego Police Lieutenant Andra Brown said Holmes’s father left the home early yesterday with unidentified law- enforcement officials and that the family was cooperating. Brown asked the public to respect the family’s privacy.
“Our hearts go out to those who were involved in this tragedy and to the families and friends of those involved,” read a letter released by the family. “We are still trying to process this information and we appreciate that people will respect our privacy.”
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