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Massacre suspect spooked gun range manager

From Scott Bronstein, CNN
updated 5:41 AM EDT, Mon July 23, 2012
The public gets its first glimpse of James Holmes, 24, the suspect in the Colorado theater shooting during his initial court appearance Monday, July 23. With his hair dyed reddish-orange, Holmes, here with public defender Tamara Brady, showed little emotion. He is accused of opening fire in a movie theater Friday, July 20, in Aurora, Colorado, killing 12 people and wounding 58 others. <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/21/us/gallery/colorado-mourning-victims/index.html' target='_blank'>More photos: Mourning the victims of the Colorado theater massacre</a> The public gets its first glimpse of James Holmes, 24, the suspect in the Colorado theater shooting during his initial court appearance Monday, July 23. With his hair dyed reddish-orange, Holmes, here with public defender Tamara Brady, showed little emotion. He is accused of opening fire in a movie theater Friday, July 20, in Aurora, Colorado, killing 12 people and wounding 58 others. More photos: Mourning the victims of the Colorado theater massacre
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Batman poster, mask found in Holmes' apartment, source says
  • Suspect's "guttural, freakish" message alarmed range manager
  • James Holmes was a doctoral student in neuroscience
  • "You would never guess he was a violent guy," an acquaintance says

Aurora, Colorado (CNN) -- Colorado massacre suspect James Holmes applied to join a gun range in June, but the range's operator said Sunday that he was disturbed by the "weird and bizarre" message on Holmes' answering machine.

"It was weird," said Glenn Rotkovich, managing partner of the Lead Valley Range in Byers, Colorado. "I didn't know what kind of message was left by this idiot. We need to know if he's an idiot before we let him have access to our range."

Rotkovich told CNN that Holmes sent in an online application on June 25. Rotkovich said he called the number Holmes left on the form, only to get a message he said was largely unintelligible.

He said the voice was "guttural, freakish, maybe drunk. Just weird and bizarre -- a deep, guttural, forced voice."

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Rotkovich said Holmes didn't call him back. He left another message, and said he was again disturbed by the voice on the machine.

"It bothered me so much I told my staff, 'If this guy shows up, he gets nothing until I meet him,' " Rotkovich said.

He said he tried calling Holmes a third time, again with no response, then quit. Holmes never called back, nor did he come to the range in Byers, about 40 miles east of Denver. But when news broke Friday of the bloodbath in a theater in the Denver suburb of Aurora, Rotkovich said one of his staffers remembered the name and saw that it matched reports of the suspect in the killings.

Holmes, a 24-year-old doctoral student in neuroscience, was arrested outside the Century 16 multiplex early Friday. He's accused of opening fire in the crowded theater during a midnight screening of the new Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises."

Shooting survivors recount Colorado horror

Pictures obtained of Holmes show a tall, bright-eyed, dark-haired young man, in contrast to the man a law enforcement official said had dyed his hair red and identified himself as "the Joker" after his arrest. And authorities recovered a Batman poster and mask from the apartment, a law enforcement source with direct knowledge of the investigation said Sunday.

It's an image difficult to reconcile for those who know him as a clean-cut, quiet graduate student.

He entered the University of California, Riverside, in 2006 on a scholarship and graduated with highest honors with a bachelor's degree in neuroscience in 2010.

"Academically, he was at the top of the top," Chancellor Timothy P. White said.

UC Riverside police have no record of any contact with Holmes, the university said. Neither did police at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, where Holmes enrolled in 2011 as a doctoral candidate in its neuroscience program at the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, university officials said in a statement released Sunday.

Holmes' sole brush with the law in Colorado appears to have been a 2011 summons for speeding from Aurora police.

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Holmes attended Colorado with the aid of a grant from the National Institutes of Health, which allowed the university to pay him a $26,000-a-year stipend for living expenses, university spokeswoman Jacque Montgomery said.

A syllabus that lists Holmes as a student at the medical school shows that he may have taken a class in which he studied topics as diverse as substance abuse, schizophrenia, depression and other disorders. According to the document, he was to have delivered a presentation in May about microRNA biomarkers.

But there are indications that something may have been amiss in Holmes' life in recent months. He withdrew from the program in June 2012, though "he gave no reason for his withdrawal from the graduate school," said Jacque Montgomery, spokeswoman for the University of Colorado.

It is not immediately clear if Holmes, who also worked in a paid position in the university's neuroscience research program, was still employed there after withdrawing from the program.

He received a large volume of deliveries over the past four months to both his home and work addresses, which police believe begins to explain how he got his hands on some of the materials used in the rampage and the subsequent discovery of his booby-trapped apartment, Aurora Police Chief Paul Oates told reporters Saturday. Holmes purchased four weapons and more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition in recent months, Oates said.

Police: Evidence of 'calculation,' 'deliberation' in Colorado shooting

Police haven't disclosed any motive for the attack or explained Holmes' appearance at the time of his arrest, citing an ongoing investigation.

Holmes was dressed in black, wearing a ballistic helmet, a tactical ballistic vest, protective leggings, a throat and groin protector, and a gas mask during the attack, police said, and witnesses say they did not see his face because of the mask.

Unlike most people his age, Holmes does not appear to have a social media footprint -- no accounts with Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr, though authorities are investigating whether he posted a profile on the sex website Adult Friend Finder.

The profile contains a picture of a man with fiery red hair, a law enforcement source said. Police believe it may be a picture of Holmes, said the source, who was not authorized to speak to the media. The profile said it was created by a 24-year-old man from Aurora and has since been taken down.

Adult Friend Finder said Sunday that it "values the privacy of its members" and would not confirm the identity of any users. The site will respond to police inquiries "as may be required by law," company spokesman Lindsay Trivento said in a written statement.

It's a profile that contrasts with news that Holmes worked as a counselor at a summer camp for needy children in 2008.

Camp Max Straus caters to needy children ages 7-14, and is run by Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles, which confirmed his employment but would not offer further details or comment.

The man who grew up in the upscale northwest San Diego neighborhood of Rancho Peñasquitos was renting an apartment in Aurora, according to police and realty records. Tom Mai, a neighbor of the Holmes family in San Diego, described Holmes as "clean-cut, quiet, responsible."

At the time of his arrest, Holmes was living in a small, three-story brick building on Paris Street in Aurora, in Apartment 10, within walking distance to the university.

"Neighbors report he lived alone and he kept to himself," Oates said.

Jackie Mitchell, who lives close to Holmes, had a beer with him on Tuesday.

Mitchell was stunned at news of Holmes' alleged involvement in the attack.

"You would never guess he was a violent guy," Mitchell said, describing Holmes as "nerdish" and "a book-smart type guy."

Massacre suspect's neighbor: 'I'm counting my lucky stars'

Holmes told police during his arrest he had booby-trapped the third-floor apartment, prompting investigators to evacuate the building and four others nearby and Friday and Saturday trying to disarm and get rid of a variety of explosive devices left behind.

Kaitlyn Fonzi, a 20-year-old grad student and neighbor, said she heard techno music blasting from his apartment around the time of the shooting and had nearly opened Holmes' unlocked apartment door to complain -- unaware that the unit was wired to explode.

A timer had turned the music on so that it would blare in his apartment after he left for the Aurora multiplex, according to a law enforcement source, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.

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Gunman turns movie into surreal horror: 'This is real'

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CNN's Mariano Castillo, Susan Candiotti, Nick Valencia and Chelsea J. Carter contributed to this report.

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