Records show U. of Iowa rejected Colorado shooting suspect
Iowa City, Iowa • The University of Iowa rejected the suspect in the Colorado movie theater shooting rampage from a graduate neuroscience program last year after he visited campus for an interview and left the program director bluntly warning colleagues: "Do NOT offer admission under any circumstances."
James Holmes applied to the Iowa program in late 2010 and was given an interview on Jan. 28, 2011, according to records released by the university.
Holmes wrote in his application that he was passionate about neuroscience and would bring "my strong moral upbringing" to the program. He painted himself as a bright student interested in improving himself and helping the world with a career in scientific research.
But two days after Holmes' interview, neuroscience program director Daniel Tranel wrote a strongly worded email urging the admissions committee not to accept him to the school.
"James Holmes: Do NOT offer admission under any circumstances," wrote Tranel, a professor of neurology.
Psychology professor Mark Blumberg followed up with a separate email two days later to say he agreed with Tranel about Holmes, one of three students Blumberg interviewed. "Don't admit," he wrote. He recommended admission for the other two.
Neither official elaborated on their reasoning in the emails, which are among 12 pages of records the university released about Holmes in response to public records requests filed by The Associated Press and other news outlets.
None of the documents further explain why Holmes' application was denied. University spokesman Tom Moore said Thursday that Holmes was academically qualified but officials did not see him as a "good personal fit for our program." He declined to elaborate.
Blumberg said in an email Thursday that he has no specific recollection of Holmes, noting officials interview many applicants each year. Tranel was not granting interview requests Thursday, a spokesman said.
Francesca Reed, marketing and social media chair of the National Association of Graduate Admissions Professionals, reviewed the university's emails for the AP and said it was clear that Holmes left school officials with a very negative impression during the interview. But she noted that could have been the result of anything from his demeanor to his research interests.
"People are going to look at this and start to say, 'He must have displayed some behavior that was a red flag," she said of Tranel's admonition to colleagues about Holmes. "But if this shooting incident didn't happen, people would look at it differently. Without being on that committee, it's hard to pass judgment."
Admissions officials have no obligation to report potentially disturbed behavior from prospective students unless it amounts to a direct threat, said Reed, director of graduate admissions at Marymount University in Arlington, Va.,
Holmes later enrolled as a first-year Ph.D. student in a neuroscience program at the University of Colorado, Denver. He withdrew about six weeks before the attack in Aurora, where prosecutors say the 24-year-old opened fire during a midnight showing of the latest Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises," killing 12 people and injuring 58 others.
A court hearing Thursday in Denver examined Holmes' relationship with University of Colorado psychiatrist Lynne Fenton, to whom he mailed a package containing a notebook that reportedly contained violent descriptions of an attack.
Prosecutors are asking a judge to allow them to review the notebook as part of their investigation. Defense attorneys say the journal is inadmissible because it's protected by doctor-patient privacy laws.
Fenton testified that she met with Holmes only once, on June 11, and that she believed their privileged relationship was limited to that day.
When Chief Deputy District Attorney Karen Pearson asked Fenton if she had a doctor-patient relationship with Holmes on July 19, when he mailed her the package, Fenton said, "I believe I did not."
Defense attorneys presented the judge a "client summary" that Fenton filled out after her meeting with Holmes. They argued the document was enough to establish that the confidential nature of her relationship with Holmes was ongoing.
Holmes' rejection from the University of Iowa stands in contrast to his previously released application to a similar program at the University of Illinois, where he was offered admission with free tuition and $22,000 per year but declined to enroll.
Holmes said on his Iowa application that he also was applying to Texas A&M, Kansas, Michigan, Alabama and Colorado. He wrote that he had a thirst for knowledge and wanted to study the "science of learning, cognition and memory."
"I have always been fascinated by the complexities of a long lost thought seemingly arising out of nowhere into a stream of awareness," he wrote. "These fascinations likely stemmed from my interest in puzzles and paradoxes as an adolescent and continued through my curiosity in academic research."
Holmes recalled his childhood in California, where everyone at his school wore white uniforms to curb gang activity.
"Looking back, my life could have gone in a completely different direction had I not possessed the foresight to choose the path of knowledge," he said.
The materials included an essay about his work as a counselor to underprivileged children at a summer camp, Camp Max Straus, in Los Angeles in 2008.
Holmes said he was responsible for a dozen 10- and 11-year-old boys who looked to him for "guidance and direction." He said the campers' daily free time was chaotic until he took control and made everyone participate in an activity chosen for that day.
"In the middle of that week when the campers were writing letters to home about their camp experience, one of the little guys asked me how to spell amazing," he wrote.
Holmes noted an average of two children in each cabin at the camp had ADHD, or attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, and that he mentored one child who had schizophrenia.
"The medication changed them from highly energetic creative kids to lax beings who slept through the activities. I wanted to help them but couldn't," he wrote. "This is where neuroscience research becomes invaluable."