School application sheds light on shooting suspect

Aug 11, 2012, 7:19 AM

Associated Press

DENVER (AP) – The man accused of opening fire in a suburban Denver movie theater had been an excellent student who left an impression good enough for acceptance to a competitive neuroscience program at the University of Illinois.

Those who recommended James Holmes found him intelligent and mature. His application materials described a bright student with strong interests in the cognitive sciences.

“He takes an active role in his education, and brings a great amount of intellectual and emotional maturity into the classroom,” one recommendation letter said. “James received excellent evaluations from the professors and graduate students with whom he worked and was mentored.”

The letter and all of the university’s documents related to Holmes were provided to The Associated Press on Friday after an open records request. The News-Gazette in Champaign, Ill., first obtained the documents.

Holmes had applied to the highly selective program in Illinois last year. The school paid for his travel expenses for a visit, and he was offered a stipend $22,600 per year and free tuition. At least two researchers vied for Holmes to join their laboratories.

“Your personal and professional qualities are truly outstanding,” and “you will be an excellent match for our program,” read the acceptance letter.

But the person described in the admissions application contrasts starkly with the 24-year-old man who has attended court hearings with a dazed expression on his face, his hair dyed a cartoonish orange, his eyes directed straight ahead. Defense lawyers said this week that Holmes suffers from a mental illness.

Little is known about Holmes, who is accused of killing 12 people and wounding 58 in the attack during a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises.” A judge has sealed court documents in the case and issued a sweeping gag order that prevents the University of Colorado, Denver, from releasing his school files. The judge’s gag order does not apply to other states.

Holmes attended the Denver school’s neuroscience program but dropped out in June without providing a reason.

His application to the Illinois school indicated he was committed to pursuing a career as cognitive neuroscientist.

“Researching learning and memory interests me because these are the very cognitive processes which enable us to acquire information and retain it,” he wrote in his personal statement. “They are at the core of what distinguishes us as people.”

Recommendation letters say he was in the top 1 percent of his honors classes, graduating with a cumulative grade point average of 3.949. Another letter describes him as “a very effective group leader” on assignments.

The names of those who wrote the letter were blacked out.

The only part of his application that seemed odd was the photo he submitted: a photo of himself, standing next to a llama.

It was not clear whether he used the photo to make his application memorable, although it seemed to work. Samuel Beshers, neuroscience program coordinator, referred to Holmes as “llama” in emails. Beshers did not return a message left at the school.

Holmes eventually declined the school’s acceptance by email, writing: “My apologies for any inconvenience this may have caused. Best wishes in your candidate search.”

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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School application sheds light on shooting suspect