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Massacre suspect recently began to struggle

James Egan Holmes, the 24-year-old suspect in the Dark Knight Rises movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., took Advanced Placement classes in high school. He wanted to get into a good college. At the University of California Riverside, he earned merit scholarships. He was quiet, but kind.

That was the portrait that began to emerge Friday from people who knew Holmes when he grew up and studied in California. None of those interviewed by the Los Angeles Times said he showed any signs of violence or anger.

Holmes grew up in San Diego County, where his parents still live. He graduated from Westview High School in San Diego in 2006.

A former high school classmate, Keith Goodwin, 24, now a Columbia Law School student, said he had a couple of conversations with Holmes during an AP European history class at Westview. He called Holmes a "generally pleasant guy."

Julie Adams, whose son played junior varsity soccer with Holmes, said her son remembered little about the suspect, which was unusual for the tight-knit team.

"I don't think many of the kids (teammates) knew him. He was kind of a loner," she said.

Tori Burton, 24, now a fellow with the National Institutes of Health, said Holmes was part of Westview's cross-country team for at least one year. "He was very quiet," she said. "He was a nice guy when you did occasionally talk to him. But he was definitely more introverted."

Professors at UC Riverside recalled Holmes as a top-notch honor student and could provide no clues that would indicate he was capable of the violent attack that left at least 12 people dead and at least 59 others injured, Chancellor Timothy White said. Holmes graduated with honors from the university with a bachelor's degree in neuroscience in 2010.

After graduation, Holmes apparently had trouble finding a job, neighbors in San Diego said, so he moved to Colorado and entered a graduate program in neurosciences at the Denver campus of the University of Colorado in 2011.

He wanted to be a neuroscientist. While in the graduate program, he took a course called "Biological Basis of Psychiatric and Neurological Disorders."

And then something changed. By this spring, Holmes had begun to struggle with his comprehensive tests. He was in serious academic trouble, according university officials.

A neuroscience faculty member told the Washington Post that Holmes was "very quiet, strangely quiet in class," and said he seemed "socially off."

Although Holmes had weak test scores, the educator said, the school's staff wasn't going to toss him out. Instead, they planned to give him remedial instruction and perhaps put him on academic probation.

But for some reason, Holmes decided to quit. The school said Friday that Holmes was in the process of withdrawing from the program.

Holmes was living a low-profile existence in a three-story brick building in Aurora about a block from the medical school, in a neighborhood that residents said was known for car break-ins and bar brawls. Few residents knew him.

One of Holmes' neighbors, Zhang Yi, said Friday that he bumped into Holmes on Thursday. Yi, 34, said that when he opened the back door to the building, Holmes walked out carrying two black bags. Yi tried to greet him. "I said, 'Hey,' and he didn't answer me," Yi said. "Not friendly."

Police said late Friday they had discovered that Holmes' apartment was elaborately booby-trapped.

As of Friday evening, no one had emerged to speak on Holmes' behalf. He will appear in court Monday and is expected to be formally charged a few days later.

Holmes apparently left no social media presence. No trace of Holmes could be found Friday on Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Twitter or anywhere else on the Web. Either he never engaged online, or he scrubbed his trail.

Westview classmate Breanna Hath, who now works as a nurse, said she remembers Holmes as extremely quiet and that he lacked self-confidence.

"There were no real girls he was involved with. . . . It seemed he was really into a video game group that hung out together."

Michael Welner, a forensic psychiatrist who, as chairman of the Forensic Panel of New York City, has studied and testified about mass shootings, said these cases invariably feature a person who is highly paranoid, resents the broader community and decides to kill out of a desire to achieve notoriety.

"Some are so paranoid that they're psychotic. Others are paranoid in a generally resentful way but have no significant psychiatric illness. But you have to hate everyone in order to kill anyone," Welner said.

"The threshold that the mass shooter crosses is one in which he decides that his righteous indignation and entitlement to destroy is more important than the life of any random person that he might kill."

Jeffrey Swanson, a professor at Duke University School of Medicine who is an expert on violence and mental illness, said people should not jump to conclusions about why a person becomes a mass killer.

"They tend to be young and male and tend to be sort of isolated. The problem with that is that there are tens of thousands of people who meet the same description and never do anything like this," Swanson said.

Late Friday, Holmes' mother was still in her home in San Diego, under police protection. His father had arrived in Colorado.

The Washington Post, New York Times, Bloomberg News, Los Angeles Times, and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Massacre suspect recently began to struggle 07/20/12 [Last modified: Friday, July 20, 2012 11:38pm]
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