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From Top Student To Top Suspect: A Mystery Between

Jul 21, 2012
Originally published on July 22, 2012 8:49 am

Police are still not saying what motivated the gunman who walked into a crowded Aurora, Colo., movie theater, shot 12 people dead and injured more than 50. The shooter was well-armed and believed to have acted alone.

Police immediately apprehended the suspect, identified as 24-year-old James Holmes, outside the multiplex. Until recently, Holmes was a student in a graduate program at the University of Colorado, Denver.

The Gunman's Entrance

Jennifer Seeger got to the Aurora movie theater after midnight Friday morning. She was late. The new Batman movie had already started. The only seats left were down in front. Seeger sat in the second row by the exit. She said about 10 minutes into the movie, a guy walked in the back door. He was in full black body armor.

"He had a gas mask on, he had Kevlar and a gun, and I thought it was part of the show at first," she says, "and I didn't think anything of it because I was like, what is this guy doing? And he threw this gas can."

The smoke was thick coming out of the can. Seeger says within seconds she was choking. Her eyes were tearing up. Then, she says, the gunman pulled out a gun and started firing into the ceiling.

"And then he took that gun and he pointed it at me right after that. I was 4 or 5 feet away from the gentlemen," she says. "I literally ... just jumped and dived into the aisle and I just curled up into a ball and waited for him. I was telling my friends, 'Don't move. Just sit there. Don't go anywhere.' "

Shooting 'At Random'

Calls to 911 streamed out of the theater by the dozens. Operators quickly dispatched officers. Meanwhile, Seeger started to crawl out from behind the seats. She headed for the aisle.

"I just saw him going upstairs and just shooting people — anybody that got up, that tried to leave the aisle, he would shoot. Just shoot at random, no particular order," she says.

She stayed down and kept crawling — over bodies. She stumbled over a man moaning. She felt his pulse. It was weak. She started trying to pull him out of the theater, but the shooter headed her way. She says she panicked, stood up and ran.

Seeger was taken to a nearby school with other witnesses. She still had blood on her arm from the injured man when she told her story to Colorado Public Radio several hours later.

Further Obstacles

Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates says the suspect had four weapons and lots ammunition, all bought legally.

"In the last 60 days, he purchased four guns at local metro gun shops, and through the Internet, he purchased over 6,000 rounds of ammunition," he says.

Oates would not give any more information about Holmes — nothing about his demeanor, statements made or his possible motives.

Holmes was a graduate student in the University of Colorado, Denver, neuroscience program. A spokeswoman says he was in the process of withdrawing.

Holmes lived in an apartment across the street from the campus. There, police found a chilling scene: The apartment was booby-trapped. Oates says he's never seen anything like it before.

"I see a lot of wires, trip wires, jars full of ammunition, jars full of liquid, some things that look like mortar rounds. We have a lot of challenges to get in there safely," he says.

Residents were evacuated from five buildings around Holmes' apartment. Neighbors did say he kept to himself.

On The Honor Roll

Before coming to Denver, Holmes lived in San Diego, where he went to high school. He attended college at the University of California, Riverside, graduating two years ago. U.C. Riverside Chancellor Timothy White says he was a top-rated student.

"He was an honor student, so academically he was at the top of the top. He really distinguished himself from an academic point of view during his four years with us," White says.

Holmes remains in custody. He will make his first court appearance Monday.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. This morning, police in Aurora, Colorado, will begin again their attempt to enter the booby-trapped apartment of James Holmes. In the early hours of Friday morning, the 24-year-old man allegedly opened fire in a crowded movie theater; and killed 12 people, and injured more than 50. Late last night, police went door-to-door in Aurora, informing families of those who had lost their lives.

Until recently, James Holmes had been a student in a graduate program at the University of Colorado, Denver. NPR's Carrie Kahn is in Aurora, and has this report.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Jennifer Seeger got to the Aurora movie theater after midnight Friday morning. She was late, and the new Batman movie had already started. The only seats left were down in front. Seeger sat in the second row, by the exit. She said about 10 minutes into the movie, a guy walked in the back door. He was in full, black body armor.

JENNIFER SEEGER: He had a gas mask on. He had Kevlar, and a gun. And I thought it was part of the show, at first - you know? I didn't think anything of it 'cause I was just like, what is this guy doing? And he threw this gas can.

KAHN: Thick smoke came out of the can. Seeger says within seconds, she was choking and her eyes were tearing up. Then, she says, the man pulled out a gun, and started firing into the ceiling.

SEEGER: And then he took that gun, and then he pointed it at me after - right after that. And I was four or five feet away from the gentleman. And I literally, at that point, instinct - just jumped, and dived into the aisle. And I just curled up in a ball and waited for him. And I was telling my friends - I was like, don't move. Just sit there. Don't go anywhere.

KAHN: Nine-one-one calls streamed out of the theater by the dozens. Operators quickly dispatched officers.

UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER: ...a car is coming, and set up a perimeter around the entire mall. Set up a perimeter around the entire mall. All cars...

KAHN: Meanwhile, Jennifer Seeger started to crawl out from behind the seats. She headed for the aisle.

SEEGER: And I just saw him going upstairs, and just shooting people. Anybody that got up, that tried to leave the aisle, he would shoot - just shoot at random, no particular order.

KAHN: She stayed down, and kept crawling over bodies. She stumbled over a man moaning. She felt his pulse. It was weak. She started trying to pull him out of the theater, but the shooter headed her way. She says she panicked, stood up and ran. Seeger was taken to a nearby school with other witnesses. She still had blood on her arm from the injured man, when she told her story to Colorado Public Radio several hours later. Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates says the suspect, James Holmes, had four weapons and lots of ammunition - all bought legally.

DAN OATES: In the last 60 days, he purchased four guns at local - metro gun shops. And through the Internet, he purchased over 6,000 rounds of ammunition.

KAHN: Chief Oates would not give any more information about Holmes - nothing about his demeanor, statements made, or his possible motives. Holmes was a graduate student in the University of Colorado, Denver's neuroscience program. A spokeswoman says he was in the process of withdrawing. Holmes lived in an apartment across the street from the campus. There, police found a chilling scene. The apartment was booby trapped. Chief Oates says he's never seen anything like it before.

OATES: I see an awful lot of wires, trip wires; jars full of ammunition; jars full of liquid; some things - things that look like mortar rounds. We have a lot of challenges to get in there safely.

KAHN: Residents were evacuated from five buildings around Holmes' apartment. Neighbors said he kept to himself. Before coming to Denver, Holmes lived in San Diego, where he went to high school. He attended college at the University of California at Riverside, graduating two years ago. U.C. Riverside Chancellor Tim White says he was a top-rated student.

TIM WHITE: He was an honor student. So academically, he was at the top of the top. He really distinguished himself, from an academic point of view, during his four years with us.

KAHN: Holmes remains in custody. He will make his first court appearance on Monday. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Aurora. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.