Neuroscience classmates saw no warnings signs in shooter
CENTENNIAL, Colo. — James Holmes spent a year in a small neuroscience doctoral program, surrounded by scientists and roughly three dozen classmates delving into the inner workings of the brain.
The University of Colorado, Denver, isn’t saying if they had any warning signs about the man accused in the deadly shooting rampage at an Aurora, Colo., movie theatre.
Experts say, however, the intimacy of the program and its focus on the brain may not have been enough for staff and students to detect that Holmes was on a course that police say ended with the deadly rampage at a midnight showing of the new Batman movie.
Supported by a prestigious federal grant, Holmes, 24, was in the first year of a program at the Anschutz Medical Campus dedicated to neuroscience, studying such topics as how the brain works or malfunctions or helping develop drugs to treat epilepsy and other disorders.
But it is not behavioural science or psychology, experts say.
David Eagleman, who runs the Initiative on Neuroscience and the Law at Baylor University, said some neuroscientists are experts in mental illnesses and aberrant behaviour, but others spend most of their time studying molecular chemistry.
“It’s really only a fraction of professors” who could identify a simmering mental disorder, Eagleman said. “Many people in neuroscience are not specialized in the issue of picking up mental illness. ... There are plenty of people who just study mice and cats and stuff like that.”
Holmes is accused of methodically stockpiling weapons and explosives at work and at home that police say he used to kill 12 people and injure 58 more at a movie theatre Friday in nearby Aurora. Police say he also booby-trapped his apartment with the intent to kill police officers.
Holmes’s arraignment hearing is on Monday.
Attention continued to focus on victims of the attack and their grieving families, many of whom turned on Tuesday to the grim task of preparing for funerals. Batman star Christian Bale visited survivors of the shooting and stopped by a makeshift memorial to victims near the movie theatre where they were shot.
Authorities say Holmes began shopping for firearms while studying neuroscience. He joined the program in June 2011 after receiving a National Institutes of Health grant to cover his tuition and provide a $26,000 annual living allowance.
The school refuses to say what specifically Holmes studied. But an online syllabus listed him as making a presentation in May during a class called Biological Basis of Psychiatric and Neurological Disorders.
In early June, Holmes took a standard oral exam that ends a graduate student’s first year. The school will not say whether he passed, but Holmes filed paperwork to withdraw from the program just days later. He never provided a written explanation for his departure.
“He had, as is now common knowledge, excellent academic credentials,” said Barry Shur, dean of the university’s graduate program.
Shur said the graduate program is “like a family” in which faculty carefully monitor students’ progress.