For most of his 24 years, James Holmes seemed to be doing everything right. He worked for a summer as a counselor at a camp for needy kids, guiding them through activities designed to teach empathy, compassion and good citizenship. Another summer, he snagged a prestigious internship at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.
He attended church with his family in their quiet, upper-middle-class San Diego neighborhood, listening to his sister play bass in the worship band. He breezed through high school and college, taking a strong interest in science and graduating with honors from the University of California, Riverside.
Friends and acquaintances of Holmes say they had no inkling that anything was awry with him — much less that he would be arrested Friday morning outside a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, clad head to toe in body armor and accused of killing 12 people and injuring 58 in one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history.
“It’s absurd. It’s so out of character for this young man,” said Jerry Borgie, senior pastor at Penasquitos Lutheran Church in San Diego, where the Holmes family worshipped. “James had goals. He was going to succeed.”
But a few hints have emerged in recent days that Holmes may have struggled far more than those around him realized.
His summer internship at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, in 2006 might have been impressive on paper, but his supervisor described him in an interview as “an unusually bad intern.”
John Jacobson, supervisor of the neurobiology lab at Salk, said he asked Holmes to create several online demonstrations of the lab’s work on temporal perceptions. Jacobson said he repeatedly tried to explain to Holmes exactly how to do the computer programming, but Holmes kept insisting on a different approach — one that did not work.
“He was really, oddly, stubborn,” Jacobson said.
Jacobson said he made a point of sitting down to lunch with Holmes at least a half-dozen times, trying to draw him out and encourage him, but found it impossible to make conversation. “He was extremely shy,” he said. “It was really hard for him to say anything. You had to ask yes or no questions.”
At the end of the summer, Holmes had to make a presentation to his fellow interns about the work. A video, widely circulated online since the shooting, shows him smiling shyly and talking with some confidence.
Less than a month before the shootings, Holmes emailed Glenn Rotkovich, who owns a gun range in Byers, Colorado, requesting a membership. Rotkovich called the contact number Holmes had left on the application and got a voice mail message he said could only be described as “bizarre, freakish.” He could make out just a few words, he said; most of it sounded like a “Guttural (Demonic) rambling.”