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Aurora suspect James Holmes was buying guns, dropping out of graduate school

The honor student, who moved to Colorado last year to study psychiatric disorders, dropped out in June. In recent months, he purchased four weapons and allegedly booby-trapped his apartment with various incendiary and chemical devices. NBC's Mike Taibbi reports.

Updated Friday 9:25 p.m. ETJames Eagan Holmes, suspected of carrying out the Colorado movie theater shooting while wearing an outfit of black ballistic gear, was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate student in neuroscience who started buying his four weapons legally in May, about the time his grades fell and he began the process of dropping out of school.

A law enforcement official confirmed that Holmes had two handguns, a shotgun and a semi-automatic rifle, had his hair brightly colored red or orange, and told police that he was the Joker, the fictional villain in earlier Batman comics and films. Holmes is not cooperating with authorities, other than to divulge that his apartment was rigged with explosives. He is represented by an attorney.

One difficulty for investigators is that the explosives in the apartment of the only suspect in this shooting are making it difficult to get to his computer, any writings or other information that could explain motive, why he apparently committed this mass killing. Police called it a "vexing problem." Police would say nothing about a possible motive or what Holmes' demeanor has been. Police have suspended for the night their attempts to enter his apartment.

In the past 60 days, police said, Holmes bought more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition, at gun shops and over the Internet.

The shooter reportedly never said a word while shooting 71 people and killing 12 in a sold-out show for Batman movie 'The Dark Knight Rises.' NBC's Miguel Almaguer reports.

The 24-year-old from San Diego, known to friends as Jimmy, was a Ph.D. student at the University of Colorado Medical School campus in Aurora, a university spokesman told NBC News.

"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," the university statement said. "Mr. Holmes enrolled at the university in June 2011."

A poor last semester
The Washington Post reported that a neuroscience faculty member at Colorado who said he taught Holmes said he immediately thought of Holmes when he heard that a student was accused of the shooting. The faculty member said Holmes was "very quiet, strangely quiet in class" and seemed "socially off."

Holmes did very poorly on his comprehensive exams last semester, the instructor told the Post, and the school was considering placing him on academic probation, but was not considering expulsion.

Aurora, Colo., police say they are working on disarming "flammable or explosive material" in the home of James Holmes, the suspected movie theater shooter, and NBC's Pete Williams has more details on the shooter's apartment.

The university website listed one of his courses as the Biological Basis of Psychiatric and Neurological Disorders. He was listed on the class website as making a presentation in the spring on MicroRNA biomarkers.

The University of California, Riverside, confirmed that a student named James Eagan Holmes, with the same date of birth, graduated with a bachelor's degree in neuroscience in 2010. He graduated in four years, attending from the fall of 2006 to spring 2010. Public records show that the Holmes living in Aurora had a previous address at a Riverside dormitory.

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Do you know James Holmes? If you have information, send an email to Bill Dedman of NBC News.

'A little strange,' 'very smart'
A student who lived across the hall from Holmes at Cal-Riverside, who asked not to be named, said Holmes completed the honors program and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Golden Key honor societies.

"I always thought that he was a little strange. I could never put my finger on it, but something told me to not get too close to him, female instincts I guess," the female student told NBC News. "I had tons of classes with him and lived across from him in the Honors dorms. He was a very smart guy though. He was a little bit of a weird guy, but we were honors students, so weird people were kind of common."

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Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates said Holmes, born Dec. 13, 1987, is the man who is believed to have killed at least 12 people early Friday at a midnight showing of the new Batman movie in Aurora, a suburb of Denver. At least 58 other people were injured, nearly all of them by bullets but a few in other ways in the chaos, Oates said.

Holmes has not yet been charged with any crime and will appear in court on Monday.

"We are confident that he acted alone," Oates said. He said he had no way to know yet how many rounds were fired, but it was "many, many." CNN said the gunman had a magazine that would have contained more than 100 rounds.

Holmes was arrested without any resistance at his white Hyundai car in the theater parking lot, parked just outside the theater's back door.

University of Colorado

James Holmes, the suspect in the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting.

He was wearing a black ballistic or bullet-resistant helmet, a ballistic tactical vest with pockets, ballistic leggings, throat and groin protectors, a gas mask and ballistic tactical gloves, Oates said.

Weapon purchases started in May
In addition to two canisters, perhaps holding teargas, four weapons were found at the scene, Oates said.

  • Two were .40-caliber handguns, made by Glock. At least one of those was used, the police chief said. Holmes had purchased more than 3,000 rounds of .40-caliber ammunition, Oates said.
  • One shotgun, a Remington Model 870, one of the most popular models. Pump action, single barrel, 12 gauge, with 300 rounds.
  • And one Smith & Wesson AR-15 type rifle, .223 caliber, called by some an "assault rifle." These weapons can accommodate large ammunition clips, and Holmes had one "drum clip" that would have carried more than 100 rounds, Oates said. With that clip, he could have fired 50 to 60 rounds in a minute, even if the rifle was considered semi-automatic, not automatic, Oates said. He had 3,000 rounds of ammunition for this rifle.

Officials told NBC News that all four were purchased legally, beginning in May, from two national chain stores: Gander Mountain Guns and Bass Pro Shops.

Bass Pro Shops released a statement saying that employees at a Denver store followed all laws when they sold two weapons to Holmes. "We want to offer our deepest sympathies to the victims and their families," said Larry Whiteley, manager of communications for the company. "This is an unspeakable tragedy, and we join with all Americans in offering our prayerful support. Based on the records we have reviewed, personnel in our Denver store correctly and fully followed all Federal requirements with respect to the sale of one shotgun and one handgun to the individual identified in this incident. Background checks, as required by Federal law, were properly conducted, and he was approved. Again, our hearts go out to the victims and their families. We also offer our support and appreciation to the law enforcement and emergency response professionals and all others who responded to give aid to these innocent victims."

CNN spoke with the CEO of TacticalGear.com, which said it sold Holmes a Blackhawk urban assault vest for $107, along with a triple pistol magazine, an M16 magazine pouch and a silver knife.

The only previous police record for Holmes is a speeding ticket in October 2011, the chief said.

NBC's Pete Williams reports the Colorado gunman identified as James Holmes carried two pistols, a rifle, and a shotgun into the midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises," and said authorities are looking into how he was able to get in through the theater's emergency exit.

Family statement
Holmes' family, who live in Rancho Penasquitos, a well-to-do suburban community in the northeastern part of San Diego, issued a statement through the San Diego Police Department.

"Our hearts go out to those who were involved in this tragedy and to the family and friends of those involved," the statement said. "We ask that the media respect our privacy during this difficult time. Our family is cooperating with authorities in San Diego, California, and Aurora, Colorado. We are still trying to process this information and we appreciate that people will respect our privacy." A man believed to be Holmes' father, James, was seen leaving with luggage, escorted by police. The Associated Press said the father is a manager at a software company, and his mother a nurse.

A neighbor, Tom Mai, told reporters on the block that Holmes was a shy, well-mannered kid, clean cut and responsible, who was very active in the church. The Associated Press reported that the family attended a Presbyterian church and threw a quiet Christmas party for neighbors. Holmes had trouble finding work after college, Mai said, and then went off to graduate school.

Rooting for the villain?
Holmes attended Westview High School in San Diego, graduating in 2006, the Poway Unified School District confirmed. Classmates showed yearbooks with his photo on cross country and soccer teams.

NBC 7 San Diego spoke with a classmate, Sumit Shah, who said he went to school with Holmes. "He was pretty shy, but once he got comfortable with you, he was the funniest, smartest guy… He always had something witty to say." He continued, "The guy I knew in high school, I don't understand how that could be the same guy…He was shy and little quiet, but he was never aggressive or mean. He always had really good grades. He seemed pretty normal."

A woman who said she knew him in high school told NBC News that Holmes was a good person, but oddly always rooted for the villains in superhero movies.

"He was a nice guy. Who very much wanted to be liked and wanted," the woman said. "He was a very, very smart guy. I honestly can not believe he could do this. I know, I know, everyone says that. But it is truly devastating to me.

"He did not have many friends for someone who wanted to be liked," she said. "He loved all the villains in superhero stuff, which I did point out as odd. Most people enjoy the hero!"

Her cousin, who knew Holmes and played soccer with him, offered this assessment by email: "Jimmy was kind to those who knew him. It was hard to get to know him, but once you did, you realized he was funny and accepting of everyone's faults. He loved video games. But I would say he did not like the shooting games. He preferred others, guitar hero. He was always quiet on the soccer field, but was committed to the team. Which is someone you want on your side even if they aren't the best. The last time I talked to Jimmy, he didn't really seem to be in a good place. But that was years ago. But nothing out of the ordinary, just you know the 20's trials and tribulations. What he did was horrible, but I will always know him as Jimmy Holmes, not this person he is being portrayed as. Just so devastating, maybe if I tried to keep in contact or something. Just hope and pray that the families that were involved know that everyone is thinking of them. I just am thinking of Jimmy also."

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'Quiet and easy-going'
Public records indicate that Holmes lived in the Aurora building where police have found explosives, at 1690 Paris St., Apt. 10. The building is reserved for students, faculty and staff from the medical campus.

The Denver Post reported that Holmes, in an apartment rental application he last year, described himself as "quiet and easy-going." A pharmacy student who lives in the building told The Post he called 911 around 12:30 a.m. Friday (2:30 a.m. ET) because there was a song blaring from the stereo inside apartment 10, where Holmes lived. The student, who wanted to be identified only as Ben, said he couldn't make out the song but that it seemed to be the same one playing on repeat. He also said Holmes kept to himself and wouldn't acknowledge people when they passed in the hall and said hello. "No one knew him. No one," he told The Post.

Melvin Evans, who was a bouncer at a karaoke bar near Holmes' apartment, said he recalled Holmes as a patron from checking IDs. He said Holmes would stroll into the Zephyr Lounge, sit quietly in a corner booth and have a Budweiser, but never joined in the singing. "He would just sit by himself. He wouldn't talk to anybody," Evans said. "He was really, really mellow, really calm. You wouldn't even look twice at him, if you passed him on the street."

Officials said Holmes was not on any watch list that would have alerted authorities that he was dangerous, officials said. The incident was not believed to have any connection to international terrorism, they added.

An earlier report that the car Holmes was driving had Tennessee plates turned out to be incorrect, officials said.

Watch live video from KUSA

'He looked so calm'
Police said the gunman entered through an exit door and appeared at the front of the theater in Aurora and released a canister, thought to be tear gas, that let out a hissing sound. He apparently had bought a ticket, propped open a door, and gone to his car for his gear.

The gunman then started shooting into the crowd, sparking pandemonium.

"He looked so calm when he did it," an eyewitness told NBC affiliate KUSA. "It was like scary. He waited for both the bombs to explode before he did anything. Then, after both of them exploded, he began to shoot."

"He had no specific target. He just started letting loose," the witness added.

Witnesses told reporters that the gunfire erupted during a shootout scene in the "The Dark Knight Rises." 

More on this story from breakingnews.com

After being captured by police, Holmes told authorities he had explosive materials in his apartment, KUSA reported.  

Local and federal officials searched Holmes' apartment building, which was evacuated soon after the shooting. 

Oates, the police chief, said the apartment had been booby-trapped with sophisticated explosives or flammable material. Officers were trying to determine how to defuse the devices.

Contributors to this report include staff from NBC News: Ian Johnston, Brinley Bruton, Sevil Omer, Suzanne Choney, Rosa Golijan, Joe Myxter, Petra Cahill, Kari Huus, Dick Belsky, Lauren McCullough, Michael  Brunker, Jason White, Bob Sullivan, Maggie Fox, Roland Jones, Carissa Ray, Alex Johnson, Gael Fashingbauer-Cooper, Will Femia, John Schoen, Allison Linn, Reena Joy Flores, Becky Bratu, Martin Wolk. The Associated Press and Reuters also contributed.

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