9Wants to Know: From Jimmy Holmes to James Holmes

9:56 PM, Nov 1, 2012   |    comments
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9Wants to Know drove 1,000 miles through California to get an up close look at where James Holmes grew up and to get a sense of his life and behavior before he moved to Colorado in 2011.   

Holmes is currently facing 24 murder charges and remains locked up in the Arapahoe County Detention Center.   A preliminary hearing is set for January 7th, which could last for five days. 

In the small farming community of Castroville, California, Paul Karrer, Holmes' 5th grade teacher remembers a Harry Potter-ish looking kid who excelled at the top of his class. 

"He just stood out.  Really bright kid," Karrer said.   "There was no sign of darkness in him when he was 10 years old. Not a glimmer, just the opposite."

Holmes was known as Jimmy in Karrer's class.    

Karrer remembers how Holmes was able to create a website using basic programming skills as a side project.   "He was so bright, I trusted him alone when he finished his work to work on a computer project.   In those days you had to program.   I didn't know what he was doing."

Childhood friends remember Holmes as a social kid who played soccer, attended birthday parties and was competitive in class to get the best grades.  

"He was off the charts smart," said Adam Martinez.   "I would never expect him to do something like this."

"He was highly competitive with his tests," said Chris Elkins.  "Now I can't even compare the two.  It's like oil and water."

Holmes spoke fondly of Castroville in applications to various graduate schools.  "As a child I passed these strawberry fields everyday on my way to school," he wrote.  "Looking back my life could have gone in a completely different direction had I not possessed the foresight to choose the path of knowledge."

That path of knowledge ran its course in a stable home according to Holmes' former neighbors. 

In a cul-de-sac, 9Wants to Know found Holmes' old house located in an upper-middle class neighborhood just east of Castroville. 

A neighbor remembers him as a "rugrat" who had good parents and blossomed in a good home.  Holmes' mother is a registered nurse.  His father, who reportedly holds various degrees and is a software manager, may have passed his intellect to his son. 

9Wants to Know was able to speak briefly face-to-face with a member of the Holmes family who still lives near Castroville.  "It's a bad situation," he said, adding the family is doing "alright." "Not as bad as the people who lost their kids."

Sometime after 6th grade the Holmes family moved 450 miles south to San Diego.   At Westview High School, which has a reputation of churning out a large percentage of college-bound students, Holmes played soccer. 

But the teenage Holmes may have withdrawn socially. 

On his old street in the Rancho Penasquitos community in north San Diego, where rows of middle-class homes line manicured streets, a neighbor remembers Holmes as more of a loner who didn't seem to have a tight circle of friends.   

Another neighbor called him a "good boy" who didn't seem stand out with the rest of the neighborhood kids.

Holmes' parents, who still live in the neighborhood, declined to comment to 9NEWS for this report through an attorney.   

After graduating high school in 2006, Holmes studied neuroscience at the University of California at Riverside where he lived in typical dorm settings.    In the apartment complex where he lived, students who were there during Holmes' time don't recall him.

While numerous students and staff told 9Wants to Know they clearly know the name and Holmes' ties to the university, no clear recollections of him emerged. 

9Wants to Know spent a significant amount of time looking for students and staff in the Biological Sciences building who would have likely interacted with the suspect.  Nobody remembered Holmes.  Not even students who graduated the same year.

One faculty member said a professor who did know Holmes and wrote him a recommendation letter is under a gag-order.

Holmes' college records reflect a student committed to academic success.  He graduated UC Riverside with a 3.9 grade point average.   His GRE test scores were high.  Impressed, several universities aggressively courted Holmes. 

But as 9Wants to Know reported in August a selection committee member at the University of Iowa who met with Holmes during an interview indicated a serious concern after the meet.  "Do NOT offer admission under any circumstances," the professor cryptically wrote in application records. 

Holmes ended up at the University of Colorado in Aurora where much of his documented behavior and personality remain cloaked by gag-orders and sealed documents. 

Students and staff at the Anschutz Campus where Holmes was working towards a Ph.D. remain silent, giving up no clues about the suspect. 

No friends of the suspect have revealed themselves, if there were any.  Neighbors who had to evacuate because of his booby-trapped apartment in July vaguely remember seeing someone who lived in his unit come and go on a bike. 

Holmes was reclusive and didn't talk to anybody in his neighborhood.

The once studious boy who excelled at school and got near perfect grades failed his oral exams in June. 

He bought 6,000 bullets, several guns, and explosives, according to police.   

Holmes met with psychiatrist Dr. Lynne Fenton on June 11th.  On that day she filled out several categories in a report titled "Client Profile."  One of those categories (Dangerousness) contains a blacked-out entry, leaving many questions as to how dangerous Holmes was considered, according to court records.   

 A day after meeting Fenton, Holmes' key-card to the university was deactivated, according to prosecutors. 

Court records mention Holmes officially quit school on June 13th

There was a "downward spiral" and Holmes wasn't satisfied with his life according statements in court records by prosecutors that don't go into detail. 

For more than a month Holmes remained in Aurora and lived in his apartment on Paris Street. There were no more classes to attend and no more studies.  His college and academic career halted.   Neighbors don't remember a thing about the man during this time. 

Sometime during these weeks Holmes was spotted at nearby bars drinking alone. 

He dyed his hair orange. 

On July 20th, police say the man who was once called Jimmy and was on a clear path to academic success entered a dark theater heavily armed, dressed in tactical gear. 

James Holmes came out an accused killer of 12 people. 

Potential Mental Illness

Holmes' defense attorneys mentioned in open court their client is mentally ill. 

"I go back and forth thinking he must have some sort of mental illness," Dr. Max Wachtel, a criminal forensic psychiatrist in Denver told 9Wants to Know. 

Wachtel evaluates suspects of crimes who claim a mental illness is to blame.   Without diagnosing Holmes, Wachtel said "there must be something going on," when asked about possible mental conditions.

"There are other mental conditions where you can be just as disconnected from reality and think your part of this good versus evil comic book world.  And it makes no sense  to anybody, but it fits in your own mind.  But you're also able to stay organized and take steps," Wachtel said.

He also added if Holmes pleads not-guilty by reason of insanity, the defense will have the heavy burden to prove their client is insane.

"That's an incredibly difficult defense to win, partially because standards are so high and partially because it's really hard for judges and juries to buy that."

In court and through mug shots, Holmes has appeared with wide-eyed expressions.

Many viewers who've written to 9NEWS believe Holmes is faking these expressions, believing he's trying to escape punishment. 

Wachtel told 9Wants to Know it's common for suspects to fake a mental illness, but intensive evaluations always catch the liars.

"I know a lot of people thought he was faking it at that point because of his demeanor. I've actually seen that kind of demeanor in a lot of very mentally ill people who are not faking it, who are not feigning."

"A normal person wouldn't what he did and most people with mental illness wouldn't do what he did," Wachtel said.

Have a comment or tip for investigative reporter Jeremy Jojola? Call him at 303-871-1425 or e-mail him

(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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