Emails: Colorado theater shooting suspect had brief romance, few friends

Published December 6, 2012 11:16 am

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Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes may have had a romantic relationship with a fellow graduate student on the University of Colorado's Anschutz Medical Campus months before he is accused of going on a murderous rampage.

An email from a professor in CU's computation bioscience program sent the morning after the shooting said Holmes had a "brief romantic relationship" with another graduate student.

"She, fortunately, it turns out is in India right now," the email says. "She knows, and is pretty freaked out."

The message was among a trove of thousands of emails sent or received by accused Aurora theater shooter James Holmes — and thousands more by University of Colorado Denver faculty, staff and students discussing Holmes — that provide new insight into Holmes' life at the school and the university's response to the tragedy.

The emails were released Wednesday pursuant to open-records requests. They show the mundanities of Holmes' life on campus — in one from November 2011, he requests an "NRSC 7610 enrollment form" — and the chaos that engulfed the school after the shootings at the Century Aurora 16 theater that killed 12 and wounded 58 more.

"As you all know by now," said an email sent to students, including Holmes, the morning after the shooting, "a former student in the neuroscience PhD program was responsible for the horrendous tragedy at the Aurora movie theater this morning."

Holmes, 24, is being held without bond at the Arapahoe County Jail. His next court appearance is scheduled for next week.

Holmes was a student in the neuroscience program on CU's Anschutz Medical Campus, until he withdrew from the program earlier this year after he failed to pass a critical exam. Prosecutors allege he began stockpiling weapons and ammunition even before then in preparation for the deadly rampage.

The university released two CDs to news outlets containing nearly 3,800 emails from the university's email system that reference Holmes or that were sent to or by Holmes from his two university email accounts. However, the university apparently removed any emails that deal with Holmes' mental health, the crime and any personal communication involving Holmes.

Nearly 1,000 of the emails released from CU's server that mention James Holmes were redacted. The messages go back to 2006 and include emails that mention people with the name James Holmes other than the suspected theater shooter. But beginning in 2011, Holmes' name is included on group emails that went out to his classmates about things as mundane as the changing of class times.

In one email Holmes sent in February, he asked a professor if there were openings in the professor's lab.

"I'm a first-year neuroscience graduate student and am interested in learning more about your work identifying genetic factors in neurogenic diseases," Holmes wrote.

He signed the email, as he did others, "Cheers, James Holmes."

Mentions of Holmes multiplied in emails following the shootings. Faculty and staff members sent messages to one another wondering if the rumors were true that he was a student at the university. Then scores of emails from media outlets poured in wondering the same thing. Finally, CU released an official statement, a photo and began discussing what to do about all of the requests.

"Do NOT release any information," said one email.

Even though he was in custody, Holmes also received media requests in his inbox.

"Question for you," a reporter with Yahoo News wrote Holmes the morning of July 20, "in light of today's tragic shooting in Colorado, wondering if you've been inundated with requests (like this one) since you share the same name with the suspect. Would you be available for a brief interview."

In a notice sent Tuesday night to media representatives, including The Denver Post, who requested the emails, the university said it had run a search on its servers for the words "James Holmes" and "James E. Holmes" and found 3,272 emails. The university is withholding nearly 1,000 of those messages because they are either student records, health records, criminal justice records or messages between attorneys and clients that are protected.

CU also examined 2,700 messages on Holmes' two accounts, withholding about 1,200 emails that it deemed protected.

Moreover, the university, in reacting to objections by Holmes' attorneys, who argued that the release of some of the emails violated their client's privacy, decided to withhold an additional 100 emails that it believed were personal communications from Holmes with his parents and friends.

In total, it is likely that most of the emails on Holmes' accounts turned over to the media are junk mail or advertisements.