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Colorado shooting suspect studied hard, 'really smart,' friend says

People who knew the suspect in the "Dark Knight" shooting at a Colorado movie theater described him Friday as an intelligent student who showed no signs of violence.

James Holmes, 24, who graduated from Westview High School in San Diego in 2006, was arrested after the shooting early Friday in suburban Denver and was described by law enforcement sources as a loner.

Holmes was a student at the University of Colorado Denver/Anschutz Medical Campus, but the school said he was in the process of withdrawing from the graduate program in neuroscience.

PHOTOS: 'Dark Knight Rises' shooting

Dan Kim, a 23-year-old student at UC San Diego, said he used to walk home from summer school with Holmes when they were middle school students, but had not talked to him since high school in 2006.

He called the suspect a "super nice kid," "kinda quiet"  and "really smart."

Kim said Holmes took multiple Advanced Placement classes and had an academically inclined circle of about five to 10 friends. 

TIMELINE: Deadliest U.S. mass shootings

To Kim, the man suspected in the mass-homicide case was known as "Jimmy."

"He didn't seem like a troublemaker at all," Kim said. "He just seemed like he wanted to get in and out, and go to college."

Holmes could not find work after graduating from UC Riverside in 2010 with a bachelor's degree in neuroscience, said Tom Mai, a retired electrical engineer who lives in the Rancho Penasquitos neighborhood where Holmes grew up.

A former high school classmate, Keith Goodwin, 24, now a Columbia Law School student, said he had a couple of conversations with Holmes during an AP European history class at Westview. He called Holmes a "generally pleasant guy."

"James was certainly not someone I would have ever imagined shooting somebody," Goodwin said.

Tori Burton, 24, a fellow with the National Institutes of Health, said Holmes was part of Westview's cross-country team for at least one year.

"He was very quiet," she said. "He was a nice guy when you did occasionally talk to him. But he was definitely more introverted."

Holmes' last known address in California was at the University Iowa Gardens Apartments less than a mile from UC Riverside. Maintenance worker Jose Torres, 45, said he remembered Holmes as a quiet person who kept mostly to himself.

"He didn't talk too much," Torres said. “Friendly? No."

Mai said he remembers Holmes as a very shy, well-mannered young man who was heavily involved in their local church.

"He seemed to be a normal kid, I don't know what triggered it. This makes me very sad," Mai said.

Holmes was taken into custody early Friday in the parking lot outside the Century 16 movie theater after the post-midnight attack in Aurora, Colo. He allegedly entered the theater through an exit door about half an hour into a screening of the new Batman movie "The Dark Knight Rises."

At least 12 people were killed in the attack. Witnesses described a chaotic scene, telling television reporters that they were overcome by noxious gas unleashed by the gunman just before he started shooting, and that they had to decide between staying on the ground, helping wounded victims or running away before he was able to reload his weapon.

Survivors said they were forced to run past bodies in the aisles. The attack was smoky and surreal, witnesses reported, as moviegoers, some wearing their own costumes, slowly realized that bullets were flying from the weapon of the man in body armor whose face was hidden by a gas mask.

"There were bullet [casings] just falling on my head. They were burning my forehead," Jennifer Seeger told reporters afterward. "Every few seconds it was just: Boom, boom, boom," she said. "He would reload and shoot and anyone who would try to leave would just get killed."

The shooter was armed with a rifle, a shotgun and two handguns, police said. Cellphone videos from the scene show panicked moviegoers running -- some screaming -- and others with blood visible.

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-- Richard Marosi in San Diego, Matt Stevens in Los Angeles and Phil Willon in Riverside

 
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L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
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