Skip to main content

Colorado shooting suspect's writings offer insight as student, aspiring scientist

By Chelsea J. Carter, CNN
August 11, 2012 -- Updated 2209 GMT (0609 HKT)
James Holmes submitted this picture as part of an application to the University of Illinois Neuroscience Graduate Program.
James Holmes submitted this picture as part of an application to the University of Illinois Neuroscience Graduate Program.
  • The University of Illinois releases James Holmes' application for admission
  • Documents released include his personal statement and resume
  • His resume is titled "aspiring scientist"
  • Holmes also submits a picture of himself standing next to a llama

(CNN) -- The man accused of opening fire at a Colorado movie theater wanted to study "the primary source of all things, our own minds," according to a personal statement he submitted as part of a graduate studies application.

The application included the statement, professional references and test scores.

It offered new details into the background of James Holmes, 24, the man charged with killing 12 people and wounding 58 others at an Aurora multiplex.

The documents were released Friday by the University of Illinois, where Holmes applied to the neuroscience department before opting to attend the University of Colorado.

How to detect threatening behavior
Warning signs in Aurora shooting case
Warning was sent about Aurora suspect
Documents requested in James Holmes case

The application, part of 176 pages released by the university, was first obtained by The News-Gazette in Champaign, Illinois.

While the documents do little to answer questions about the alleged suspect's possible motive in the July 20 shooting during a showing of the Batman movie at the Century 16 multiplex, they offer new insight into Holmes as a student and his aspirations to study the human brain.

In the statement, Holmes wrote that he has long been "fascinated by the complexities of long lost thought seemingly arising out of nowhere into stream of awareness.

"These fascinations likely stemmed from my interest in puzzles and paradoxes as an adolescent and continued through my curiosity in academic research," he wrote in the statement submitted in early 2011.

He titled his resume "aspiring scientist."

Holmes was described as taking "an active role in his education, and brings a great amount of intellectual and emotional maturity into the classroom," according to a letter of reference that appeared to be from one of his former professors.

Media urge unsealing of documents in Colorado shooting case

As part of his graduate studies application, Holmes submitted a photo of himself offering a piece of straw to a llama.

The move caught the attention of Samuel Beshers, the university's neuroscience program coordinator, who pointed Holmes application to a colleague in an e-mail.

"You can't miss the llama," Beshers wrote.

One staff member, whose name was redacted from the documents, took to referring to Holmes as "the llama" in communication with others at the university.

"Do you have any of llama's travel details for next week?" one e-mail said.

According to e-mails released by the University of Illinois, Holmes visited the Urbana-Champaign campus in March 2011 and met with professors, research assistants and Beshers while touring the facilities.

The documents released by the university were heavily redacted, with nearly all names, addresses, locations and, in some cases, dates removed.

Also redacted was a character assessment by a member of the university staff.

Overall, the documents show that the faculty at the University of Illinois appeared to be taken with Holmes, offering him admission, a $22,660 stipend , and a tuition and fee waiver.

University of Colorado to review how it handled shooting suspect

In a brief e-mail, Holmes declined the offer without giving an explanation: "Thank you for offering me a position in the Neuroscience Program at UIUC but unfortunately I will not be accepting your offer for admission. My apologies for any inconvenience this may have caused."

Holmes appears to have been accepted for admission, about the same time, to the University of Colorado's neuroscience program at the Anschutz campus in Aurora.

The University of Colorado has declined a request to release Holmes' records, citing a judge's order that sealed documents in the case.

Holmes withdrew from the neuroscience program in June, a month before the shooting, though gave no reason for his withdrawal, said Jacque Montgomery, a spokeswoman for the University of Colorado.

Colorado authorities have declined to comment on a possible motive, citing a judge's order that sealed the court record in the case. More than a dozen news organizations, including CNN, have asked the presiding judge to unseal the full record.

The events in Colorado also appear to have affected the faculty at the University of Illinois.

In an e-mail dated July 23, days after Holmes was identified as the alleged movie theater shooter, Beshers wrote an e-mail to a colleague saying "we (the program and esp. students) need to ponder this and maybe have a discussion about it."

While Beshers did not want to announce the university's connection to Holmes on its website, he wrote "at the same time there's no point in try to hide it, or hide from it."

He suggested meeting at a local restaurant and bar "where we could have a beer and talk amongst ourselves then maybe we could announce a gathering for anyone interested."

It's not clear whether the gathering occurred. Beshers did not immediately return a telephone call from CNN early Saturday seeking comment.

Complete coverage of the Aurora theater shooting

CNN's Greg Morrison contributed to this report.

Part of complete coverage on
Meet the victims involved in the Colorado theater massacre through shared photos and read the memories kept alive by their loved ones.
March 28, 2013 -- Updated 1359 GMT (2159 HKT)
Colorado shooting suspect has offered to plead guilty and spend the rest of his life behind bars in exchange for avoiding the death penalty.
March 22, 2013 -- Updated 1436 GMT (2236 HKT)
Back in the 1950s, Hollywood fell in love with the idea of truth serum. But it doesn't work the way the movies have made it seem.
March 2, 2013 -- Updated 0259 GMT (1059 HKT)
Lawyers for James Holmes, the Aurora, Colorado, mass shooting suspect, took aim against the state's insanity defense laws in court documents made public Friday.
January 8, 2013 -- Updated 1218 GMT (2018 HKT)
So much blood the theater floor had become slippery. Bodies with horrific injuries. The eerie sound of cell phones ringing, over and over again.
January 3, 2013 -- Updated 1634 GMT (0034 HKT)
Relatives of nine people killed said an invitation to attend an event on the eve of the remodeled complex's reopening is "disgusting."
July 31, 2012 -- Updated 1530 GMT (2330 HKT)
Colorado movie shooting suspect James Holmes was charged Monday with 24 counts of first-degree murder -- two counts for each of the 12 people killed in the shooting.
July 25, 2012 -- Updated 2206 GMT (0606 HKT)
From the silver lining of welcoming a newborn into the world on Tuesday to promising to live life to the fullest, survivors are looking forward.
July 22, 2012 -- Updated 1446 GMT (2246 HKT)
James E. Holmes is described by those who know him as a quiet, clean-cut doctoral student.
July 20, 2012 -- Updated 1435 GMT (2235 HKT)
A heavily armed gunman opened fire at a movie theater on July 20, killing at least 12 and wounding 38. Here are some of the worst U.S. mass shootings since World War II.
July 25, 2012 -- Updated 1859 GMT (0259 HKT)
Photos of the scene in Aurora after the shooting took place.
July 21, 2012 -- Updated 0159 GMT (0959 HKT)
A heavily armed gunman sprayed the audience with gunfire during an early morning screening of the new Batman movie, killing 12 and wounding 38 others, authorities said.
Are you a friend or family member of one of the victims? Share your tributes here.