As authorities try to piece together the motivations of James Holmes, who allegedly went on a shooting spree at a midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises" in Aurora, Colorado, a researcher at the University of Colorado School of Medicine Neuroscience program—where Holmes was a PhD candidate before recently deciding to drop out—fails to recall anything suspicious about the 24-year-old man.
"He appeared to be a normal guy," said a member of neuroscientist Nancy Zahniser's lab. "I never heard him talk though," he added. "Pretty quiet."
The researcher, who declined to give his name, said that Holmes was a rotational student, doing stints in different labs before settling in one to complete his PhD research. He noted that in March Holmes did a rotation in the lab of Mark Dell'Aqua, who studies the role of kinase/phosphatase signaling complexes in channel and transcription factor regulation associated with learning, memory, and mental health disorders. Calls to Dell'Aqua went unanswered, and a member of his lab directed this reporter to University of Colorado spokesperson Jacque Montgomery, whose voicemail inbox was full as of Friday (July 20) morning.
On Friday, the website of the University of Colorado School of Medicine Neuroscience program—which contains contact information for students and faculty—went from being publicly accessible and searchable to being password protected and thus inaccessible by the general public. Numerous calls made to other principal investigators and laboratory personnel in the neuroscience program went unanswered.
Several news outlets reported Friday that Holmes was indeed a graduate student at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. "The University of Colorado Denver Anschutz Medical Campus can confirm that Mr. James Holmes was in the process of withdrawing from the University of Colorado Denver's graduate program in neurosciences," according to a university statement. "Mr. Holmes enrolled at the university in June 2011."
The Scientist is following this developing story and will post updates as new information comes to light.
UPDATE (July 20 @ 5:00 PM, EDT): The University of California Riverside, the college from which James Holmes earned his Bachelor's degree in neuroscience, released video of this news conference today. In it, Chancellor Timothy White, a physiologist by training, expresses his condolences for the victims and family members of the tragic shooting in Colorado.
Update (July 22 @ 2:00 PM EDT): The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus released more information about Holmes and his tenure at the school's graduate-level neuroscience program. Spokesperson Jacque Montgomery emailed the following facts to The Scientist:
- Holmes decided to withdraw from the neuroscience program at the Graduate School at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, Colorado,in June 2012. He gave no reason for his withdrawal.
- He had an appointment on a Neuroscience Training Grant from the National Institutes of Health. The grant funds six pre-thesis PhD students in the Neuroscience Program at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. The focus of the program is on training outstanding neuroscientists and academicians who will make significant contributions to neurobiology. It’s called the NIH T32 grant HD041697 entitled "Neuroscience Training Grant."