Sunday, May 27, 2018

Friend to some, loner to others

AURORA, Colo. — New details emerged Saturday about James Holmes, 24, the suspect in the shooting at a movie theater, including summer jobs he held in Southern California as a camp counselor and as an intern at a prominent research institute.

While authorities continued to refuse to discuss a possible motive for one of the deadliest mass shootings in recent U.S. history, details about Holmes' background as a student and would-be scientist trickled out Saturday.

Holmes had recently withdrawn from a competitive graduate program in neuroscience at the University of Colorado-Denver, where he was one of six students at the school to get National Institutes of Health grant money. He recently took an intense three-part, oral exam that marks the end of the freshman year of the four-year program there, but university officials would not say if he passed, citing privacy concerns.

In a resume posted on Monster.com, Holmes listed himself as an "aspiring scientist" and said he was looking for a job as a laboratory technician.

The resume, first obtained by the Press-Enterprise in Riverside, paints a picture of a brilliant young man brimming with potential: He worked as a summer intern at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla in 2006 and mapped the neurons of Zebra finches and studied the flight muscles of hummingbirds while an undergraduate at the University of California, Riverside.

He also worked as a cabin counselor to underprivileged children at a summer camp in Los Angeles in 2008. In a statement, Camp Max Straus confirmed Holmes had worked there for eight weeks. The camp provided no other detail about Holmes but said such counselors are generally responsible for the care and guidance of roughly 10 children.

But Holmes struggled through his first academic year at the University of Colorado, Denver, and had dropped out by this spring. Neighbors from his gang-ridden neighborhood in Aurora described him as a solitary figure, recognizable as one of the few white residents of a largely Hispanic neighborhood, and always alone. Alone as he bought beer and liquor at neighborhood shops, as he ate burritos at La California restaurant or got his car fixed at the Grease Monkey auto shop. Alone as he rode his bicycle through the streets.

He appears to have sought companionship through the website Adult Friend Finder, posting a photo of himself with bright orange hair and saying that he was "looking for a fling." In an online profile, he described himself as a nice guy, or as nice as any man "who does these sorts of shenanigans," though its authenticity could not be independently verified.

Some nights, neighbors heard loud music throbbing in his third-floor apartment, and often complained about it, or noticed a strange, purple light in the windows. Sometimes, the windows were masked by newspaper, as if he wanted no one to see inside.

One of Holmes' friends was Richie Duong, a 24-year-old student at the University of California, Riverside who had gone to school with the suspected gunman for more than a decade.

The pair went to middle school together, and got to know each other in high school over cards and Wii video games. They also attended UC Riverside together, where they'd see each other at least once a week to watch Lost.

Duong said he, Holmes and a few others got together as recently as last December in downtown Los Angeles to grab dinner and see the new Mission Impossible movie.

"He didn't seem to change very much from high school," Duong said. "We knew him as the same guy. We would call him 'Jimmy James.' We would laugh all the time about it."

That leaves Duong and others close to Holmes trying to understand what happened Friday after midnight in an Aurora, Colo. movie theater.

Duong said he has thought a lot about what might have made Holmes snap. Was it pressure from school? Holmes had been pursuing a doctorate in neuroscience at the University of Colorado, Denver Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora for a year but had begun the process of withdrawing from the program last month, officials said.

"Everything came easy for him," Duong said in a telephone interview Saturday. "I had one college class with him, and he didn't even have to take notes or anything. He would just show up to class, sit there, and around test time he would always get an 'A.' "

Duong said that he did not believe Holmes was on prescription medication. In fact, he called Holmes a "pretty athletic kid" who frequented the gym. Duong said Holmes had numerous friends and that he had no apparent problem with women.

"He did see girls," Duong said, adding that Holmes had never introduced him to a girlfriend.

Duong had not heard from Holmes since their last meeting.

When he heard about the shootings, Duong said he read reports online and, at first, he misunderstood. He thought his friend had been shot. Then he read more closely and "it turned out" his friend was the shooter. "I just don't know what to consider him anymore," Duong said. "Is he a friend? Or I don't know what he is to me. As of now he's James Holmes – The Batman Shooter."

Apart from a speeding ticket, Holmes had no previous encounters with the police in Colorado or while at college in California. He left no easily identifiable online messages or videos that might offer any insight to his mindset.

This report contains informatuion from the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times.

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