Rampage Killers

James Eagan Holmes

James Eagan Holmes (born December 13, 1987) is an American convicted on 24 counts of murder and 140 counts of attempted murder for the 2012 Aurora shooting that killed 12 people and injured 70 others at a Century movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, on July 20, 2012. He had no known criminal record prior to the shooting. Holmes booby-trapped his apartment with explosives before the shooting, which were defused one day later by a bomb squad.

Holmes was arrested shortly after the shooting and jailed without bail awaiting trial. Following this, he was hospitalized after attempting suicide several times while in jail. Holmes entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, which was accepted. His trial began on April 27, 2015, and on August 24, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Aurora theater shooting

Events leading to the shooting

Holmes’ defense attorneys stated in a motion that he was a psychiatric patient of the medical director of Anschutz’s Student Mental Health Services prior to the Aurora shooting. The prosecutor disagreed with that claim. Four days after the release of the defense attorney’s motion, the judge required this information to be blacked out. CBS News later reported that Holmes met with at least three mental health professionals at the University of Colorado prior to the massacre. One of them, who was informed by Holmes of his homicidal thoughts, considered placing him on an involuntary mental health hold, but decided against it, noting her belief that Holmes was borderline and the commitment would only inflame him.

One of Holmes’ psychiatrists suspected, prior to the shooting, that Holmes suffered from a mental illness and could be dangerous. A month before the shooting, Dr. Lynne Fenton reported to the campus police that he had made homicidal statements. Two weeks prior to the shooting, Holmes sent a text message asking a graduate student if the student had heard of the disorder dysphoric mania, and warning the student to stay away from him “because I am bad news”.

Holmes was a fan of superheroes, including Batman, and his apartment was decorated with Batman memorabilia. Dave Aragón, an actor from MTV television series Pimp My Ride, stated that Holmes called him twice the month prior to the shooting. Aragón is the writer, director, and star of an upcoming film entitled The Suffocator of Sins, which depicts a vigilante who shoots criminals, and Aragón claimed that Holmes showed interest in his movie’s trailer.

According to Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler, Holmes chose the Century 16 theater for his attack because he liked movie theaters and the specific theater had doors that he could lock in order to increase the number of casualties, as well as being in an area where police response would take longer. He specifically chose to attack a midnight screening because he believed fewer children would be present, not wanting to kill them. Holmes allegedly considered other locations for a mass shooting, such as an airport, but ruled it out because an airport would have too much security. He also wrote his reasoning that an attack on an airport would be confused as an act of terrorism, saying, “Terrorism isn’t the message. The message is, there is no message.” In addition, he had been considering using explosives, chemical agents, or biological agents in his attack, but rejected the scenario as he thought he might “blow himself up”. Holmes had also considered serial killing as an option, but later reasoned it was “too personal, too much evidence, easily caught, few kills.”

Actions prior to shooting

On May 22, 2012, Holmes purchased a Glock 22 pistol at a Gander Mountain shop in Aurora. Six days later, on May 28, he bought a Remington 870 Express Tactical shotgun at a Bass Pro Shops in Denver. On June 7, just hours after failing his oral exam at the university, he purchased a high-powered rifle. All the weapons were bought legally and background checks were performed. In the four months prior to the shooting, Holmes also bought 3,000 rounds of ammunition for the pistols, 3,000 rounds for the M&P15, and 350 shells for the shotgun over the Internet. On July 2, he placed an order for a Blackhawk Urban Assault Vest, two magazine holders, and a knife at an online retailer. He also purchased spike strips, which he later admitted he planned to use in case police shot at him or followed him in a car chase.

On June 25, less than a month before the shooting, Holmes emailed an application to join a gun club in Byers, Colorado. The owner, Glenn Rotkovich, called him several times throughout the following days to invite him to a mandatory orientation, but could only reach his answering machine. Due to the nature of Holmes’ voice mail, which he described as “bizarre”, “freaky”, “guttural”, “spoken with a deep voice”, “incoherent and rambling”, Rotkovich instructed his staff to inform him if Holmes showed up, though Holmes neither appeared at the gun range nor called back. “In hindsight, looking back – and if I’d seen the movies – maybe I’d say it was like the Joker – I would have gotten the Joker out of it… It was like somebody was trying to be as weird as possible”, Rotkovich said.

On July 19, just hours before the shooting started, Holmes mailed a notebook to his psychiatrist. The notebook detailed his thoughts and plans during the weeks preceding the shooting. The notebook was found in an undelivered package in the Anschutz Medical Campus mail-room. Immediately prior to the shooting, Holmes reportedly called a crisis hotline for mental health with the hopes that someone would talk him out of committing the massacre at the last minute. However, the call was disconnected after nine seconds.

Shooting and arrest

Century 16 at Town Center at Aurora, scene of the shooting

On July 20, 2012, police arrested Holmes without resistance while he was standing next to his car behind the Century 16 theater, moments after the shooting. Holmes had snuck out an exit door, propped it open, and returned with weapons and other gear, setting off several gas or smoke canisters and then opening fire on the theater audience, killing 12 and wounding 70. According to testimonies during the following trial, Holmes was initially “calm and detached” during the arrest, but became interested in watching the aftermath of the shooting after being placed in the back of a police car. The responding officers recovered several guns from inside the car and the theater.

Once apprehended, Holmes told the police that he had booby-trapped his apartment with explosive devices before heading to the theater. Police later confirmed the presence of explosives in the apartment.

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