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Colorado shooting suspect was 'a bright guy,' former teacher says

July 21, 2012 |  9:59 am

The suspected gunman in the Colorado movie theater shooting that killed 12 and injured dozens more was a bright student who “cared about his studies,” according to a teacher at his high school.

Few details have emerged in the portrait of James E. Holmes, the 24-year-old former resident of San Diego, but many friends and acquaintances labeled him as brainy. Friends from his high school said Holmes took multiple advanced placement classes while at Westview High, and UC Riverside Chancellor Timothy P. White said that Holmes was an honor student as an undergraduate there.

The suspect had been pursuing a doctorate in neuroscience at the University of Colorado Denver Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora for a year, but had begun the process of withdrawing from the program last month, officials said.

PHOTOS: 'Dark Knight Rises' shooting

Late Friday, one of Holmes' high school teachers told The Times that the suspected mass murderer was “a bright guy.”

“He was one of those guys where academically there was never any concern about getting his stuff done,” said a Westview teacher who spoke on the condition of anonymity because teachers are not authorized to speak to the media on the topic. “There was no reason for me to believe this kid was extraordinarily genius. But he was a good student and good at getting stuff done. He had the personality of a diligent student. He cared about his studies.” 

Holmes' father, Robert, is a software engineer, and his mother a registered nurse. The SD-UT reported that Robert holds degrees from Stanford, UCLA and Berkeley.

PHOTOS: Suspected Colorado gunman's California ties

Friends and neighbors were baffled at the news Friday, and Holmes left no clues online as to his potential motives or mental state. Authorities say he booby-trapped his apartment in Aurora with explosives and chemical devices.

The attack appears to have been carefully planned. Carrying an AR-15 assault-style rifle, a shotgun and two Glock pistols, the killer walked into a multiplex theater screening the new Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises," with hair dyed red and saying he was the Joker, a Batman villain, according to law enforcement. He wore a gas mask, a ballistics helmet and vest, and groin, throat and leg protectors. He released two smoke- or gas-emitting devices and then opened fire, shooting at anyone who tried to escape. He was arrested without incident near a white Hyundai in a parking lot nearby.

A neighbor described Holmes as a very shy, well-mannered young man who was heavily involved in the local Presbyterian church.

TIMELINE: Mass shootings in the U.S.

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


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-- Matt Stevens and Joe Mozingo in Los Angeles, Tony Perry, Nicole Santa Cruz and Richard Marosi in San Diego and Phil Willon in Riverside.