Massacre suspect spooked gun range manager

Updated 5:41 AM EDT, Mon July 23, 2012

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

(CNN) —  

James Holmes, the suspect in Friday’s shooting of dozens of people at a Colorado movie theater, was a “nice guy” who worked well with children, said a man who worked with him at a summer camp four years ago.

“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.”

Paying tribute to the victims

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,’ ” he 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 his 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.

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.