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Complex portrait emerges of suspected Colorado gunman James Holmes

July 20, 2012 |  2:32 pm

This post has been updated, as indicated below.

James Holmes, the suspect in the "Dark Knight" movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., took Advanced Placement classes in high school. He wanted to get into a good college. At UC Riverside, he earned merit scholarships. He was quiet but kind.

That was the portrait that began to emerge Friday from people who knew Holmes, 24, when he grew up and studied in California. None of those interviewed by The Times said he showed any signs of violence or anger.

Holmes graduated from Westview High School in San Diego in 2006.

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

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

Dan Kim, a 23-year-old student at UC San Diego, called the suspect a "super-nice kid," "kinda quiet"  and "really smart."

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

"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."

Professors at UC Riverside recalled Holmes as an honor student and could provide no clues that would indicate he was capable the violent attack that left 12 people dead and dozens of others injured, Chancellor Timothy White said.

White said professors who knew Holmes expressed shock and disbelief about the movie theater shooting at the premiere of "The Dark Knight Rises" in Aurora, Colo. He said that many on campus were still trying to understand happened.

White said counseling is being offered to faculty and staff who may have known Holmes.

"He was an honor student, so academically, he was at the top of the top," White said. Holmes graduated from the university with a bachelor's degree in neuroscience in 2010.

Kelly Huffman, an assistant professor of psychology at UC Riverside, said Holmes was in her Drugs and Behavior class in 2010 and did well in what she said was a challenging course. She described him as “a smart and quiet guy.”

Huffman said that she spoke Friday with the teaching assistant who led the course's smaller discussion section that Holmes attended, and that the assistant didn't recall the shooting suspect. "So that probably means he [Holmes] was pretty quiet," Huffman said.

White said Holmes had received merit scholarships and was considered a very good student.

According to local officials in Aurora, at least 12 people were killed and dozens were injured in the attack by the gunman, who wore body armor and a gas mask when he entered the movie theater in the Denver suburb after midnight Friday.

He then set off at least one canister of gas and opened fire with a variety of weapons, officials said.

The attack came about half an hour into the showing of "The Dark Knight Rises," an eagerly awaited summer epic that had fans lining up for hours and scalpers reportedly selling tickets for as much as $300.

[For the Record, 3:55 p.m. July 20:  An earlier version of this post included details of a grade that James Holmes had received in a class at UC Riverside. This version removes those details, in deference to federal rules that prohibit the release of students' grades without their permission.]

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