Two portraits of suspect James Holmes emerge

4:56 PM, Jul 21, 2012   |    comments
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James Holmes

SAN DIEGO - A portrait of two distinct people is slowly emerging of James Eagan Holmes, the quiet, intellectually gifted neuroscience student turned suspected mass murderer.

Those who knew Holmes in the upscale San Diego community where he grew up remember a polite young man who kept to himself and excelled academically.

"He was really talented, really smart," said Porsche Parkman, 19, who attended Westview High School with Holmes' younger sister, Chris. Holmes graduated from the school in 2006. "He was so nice and his family was always there for him. Nothing seemed wrong."

Her description of the 24-year-old seen with a ready smile in his high school yearbook photo stands in stark contrast to the 6-foot-tall gunman dressed in head-to-toe black body armor who police say opened fire with multiple weapons in a crowded suburban Denver movie theater, killing 12 people and wounding 58.

Police portray a suspect intent on killing, taking the violence even further when he booby-trapped his apartment to kill the first person to enter, most likely a police officer.

"This apartment was designed to kill," said Aurora Police Chief Daniel Oates. He said Holmes had a "high volume" of deliveries of materials and ammunition that could explain the aerial shells, trip wires and other explosive devices found in his apartment.

"What we're seeing here is some evidence, I think, of calculation and deliberation," Oates said Saturday. "If you think we are angry, we sure as hell are angry."

In the six months before the shooting, police said Holmes bought at least 6,000 rounds of ammunition, an AR 15 assault rifle, a Remington shotgun and two 40-caliber Glock handguns. He bought them legally, according to a federal law enforcement official who was not authorized to speak publicly.

Oates said Holmes used a rifle, shotgun and one of the handguns during the attack.

At the same time that authorities say he was buying ammunition and weapons, Holmes was in the process of dropping out of the University of Colorado's neuroscience program in Aurora. He had joined the program a year ago, but by June he had withdrawn, the university said in a statement. Dan Meyers, spokesman for the University of Colorado School of Medicine, would not say why he left.

Oates said the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit is working with local police to figure out a motive for the shooting.

University of Colorado biology student Kaitlyn Fonzi, who lives below Holmes in a student-housing complex in northern Aurora, had seen Holmes in the building several times and remembers a student who looked like any other on the medical and academic campus across the street from their apartment.

"You never really think anything like this is going to happen," Fonzi said after the building was evacuated when police tried to defuse the trip wires they said Holmes set up.

In Rancho Peñasquitos, an upper-middle-class community of picturesque hacienda-style homes surrounded by hills and canyons where Holmes grew up, neighbors and residents have a hard time squaring the quiet teen who didn't call attention to himself with the image of Holmes depicted by police as a calculating killer.

His family still lives in the two-story white house with a red-tiled roof where he grew up.

Holmes, who graduated with high honors with a bachelor of science degree in neuroscience from the University of California-Riverside, was raised in a math and science household. His mother, Arlene, has been licensed as a registered nurse for more than 30 years. His father, Robert, is a mathematician who develops statistical models for financial services, specifically looking at fraud.

Theirs is a community where neighbors are friendly and know each other, said one neighbor, Rose To.

"We know the parents as good neighbors," said To, whose home is across the street. "We watch out for each other here."

Lindsay Van Leeuwen, 32, lives three doors away from Holmes' family. She has lived there four years and said she was probably one of the newest residents in the neighborhood. She doesn't know the family well, she said, but she received a card from them when her twins were born two months ago.

"It's scary. I'm shocked that it's happened right down the street," Van Leeuwen said.

Porsche Parkman and her husband, William, 19, remember a friendly family who kept to themselves but were supportive one another.

Porsche Parkman became friends with Holmes' sister during their freshman year at Westview, about 3 miles from where the Holmes family lived.

"Her dad was really smart. Their mom was nice, quiet. They let (their children) be who they were," Porsche Parkman said.

William Parkman said Holmes' sister, Chris, never said anything negative about her brother, "that he was crazy or anything." If anything, she bragged about how good Holmes was in school.

William Parkman marveled at how Holmes had gone from a proud example of a successful graduate of their high school to one of the most hated people in the country.

"The news reports you hear about him, it's as if people are talking about one person in San Diego and one in Colorado," Parkman said. "Who he is now is not who he was in San Diego."

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