Aurora theater massacre, as told by the gun­man

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Maria L. La Ganga

The techno mu­sic cours­ing through his ear­buds was cranked up to full vol­ume. The lat­est Bat­man movie blared from the screen. He shot round af­ter round into the packed theater, as hun­dreds of spec­ta­tors shrieked in ter­ror. An alarm blasted.

And when James E. Holmes was done fir­ing, af­ter an out­burst of vi­o­lence months in the mak­ing, a sin­gle im­age stuck in his mind.

“This one guy in the front row was smil­ing,” Holmes said via video Tues­day, his flat, emo­tion­less voice fill­ing the dark­ened court­room. “I thought it was kind of odd he was smil­ing. This was when I was go­ing to leave, go­ing to­ward the exit. I looked back and saw he was smil­ing.... He was alive and mov­ing a lit­tle bit.”

Ju­rors are watch­ing 22 hours of con­ver­sa­tions re- corded last July be­tween Holmes and Dr. Wil­liam Reid, one of two court-ap­pointed psy­chi­a­trists who eval­u­ated the gun­man af­ter he pleaded not guilty by rea­son of insanity in the July 20, 2012, massacre at the Cen­tury 16 com­plex in Aurora, Colo.

Prod­ded by Reid, Holmes

said he guessed the man was prob­a­bly “ner­vous or anx­ious.”

For the first month of Holmes’ trial on 166 charges, the fo­cus was solidly on the eight men, three women and one lit­tle girl the failed neu­ro­science stu­dent killed and the 70 oth­ers he wounded dur­ing a mid­night screen­ing of “The Dark Knight Rises.”

But the pros­e­cu­tion is show­ing the in­ter­views in their en­tirety — just days af­ter re­leas­ing Holmes’ pri­vate jour­nal — al­low­ing ju­rors to peer into the shooter’s mind, learn how he thinks, lis­ten to re­sponses that sounded de­tached, cold.

On Tues­day, Holmes de­scribed in halt­ing terms what hap­pened in­side Theater 9 with its sta­dium seat­ing, as Reid pushed him to re­mem­ber what he had done and how he had felt. It was the first time any­one other than lawyers and psy­chi­a­trists had heard his ver­sion of events.

In Di­vi­sion 201 of the Ara­pa­hoe County Jus­tice Cen­ter, ju­rors watched images of Holmes in pri­son blues pro­jected on a f lat screen above the 27-year-old de­fen­dant. Both Holmes in the court­room and Holmes on the screen stared straight ahead. Both were nearly mo­tion­less. One was si­lent. The other re­sponded in mono­syl­la­bles, sen­tence frag­ments, an oc­ca­sional long thought.

Although he has pleaded not guilty, Holmes does not dis­pute the fact that he car­ried out the massacre. His plan­ning, he told Reid, was “metic­u­lous,” his men­tal ill­ness a 15-year path.

Lis­ten­ing to the in­ter­views, ju­rors learned that Holmes fa­vored silky sheets in red and black. He had a sin­gle house­plant of un- known genus in his 800square-foot apart­ment near the Uni­ver­sity of Colorado An­schutz Med­i­cal Cam­pus; he wa­tered it daily, named it “Planty.” He fa­vored male­cen­tric sit­coms like “The Big Bang The­ory.”

“Of Mice and Men” was his fa­vorite John Stein­beck novel, he told Reid dur­ing their lengthy ses­sions. And he iden­ti­fied with Len­nie, the tragic pro­tag­o­nist with the mind of a child in the body of a gi­ant, a man who killed with­out mean­ing to.

“Len­nie accidentally killed a per­son, I don’t re­mem­ber who. They were out to get him,” Holmes told Reid. “I think he was schiz­o­phrenic.... He was the most in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ter in the book.”

Although Holmes de­scribed him­self as schiz­o­phrenic, that’s about where the per­ceived similarities end.

He wanted to kill “as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble,” he said, but he also wanted to pro­tect him­self in the process. He “chose mass mur­der over do­ing some­thing like a se­rial killing,” he said, “be­cause it was im­per­sonal, it was some­thing I could ac­tu­ally do.”

In the days be­fore the ram­page, Holmes bought three movie tick­ets on­line, but none were for the au­di­to­rium he had care­fully cased out. He found out, how­ever, that it didn’t mat­ter. Once he got into the mul­ti­plex, no one kept him from his tar­get: Theater 9.

“I just went to the very front and sat down in one of the chairs and pulled out my phone to make it look like I had a phone call and then went out the [emer­gency] exit,” he told Reid. “I looked back in the stands and saw they were all full.”

He propped the exit door open so he could get back in with his weapons.

Be­fore leav­ing his booby­trapped apart­ment late on July 19, 2012, Holmes loaded the mag­a­zines for his four weapons and pulled on a pair of bal­lis­tic pants. In­side his cramped Hyundai Tiburon sit­ting in the theater park­ing lot, he said, he quickly put on the rest of his gear.

“Then an em­ployee came out to the dump­ster and threw some­thing away,” Holmes said. “But I had tinted the win­dows and they didn’t see me. I heard them.”

He wor­ried, he told Reid, about whether “they’re go­ing to in­ter­rupt the process or not. But they didn’t. They just went back in­side the theater af­ter throw­ing the trash away.” Reid: “What if they had?” Holmes: “I had a hand­gun.”

Reid: “Were you pre­pared to do that if nec­es­sary?” Holmes: “Yeah.” Reid asked whether Holmes had any other thoughts as he pre­pared to reen­ter the theater and carry out his “mission,” whether his heart was pump­ing, his adren­a­line rac­ing.

“Calm and col­lected,” Holmes replied.

His AR-15 as­sault weapon was slung across his chest. He had a Glock hand­gun tucked in his belt, spare mag­a­zines in pouches, a shot­gun at the ready. He dropped one tear-gas can­is­ter and it rolled away, but he had a spare.

“First, I open the tear-gas can­is­ter while I’m still out­side the door,” he said. “It made a hiss­ing sound. I went in­side and tossed it over to the right side of the theater.... I could see peo­ple try­ing to leave and sit­ting down un­der their seats.”

He raised his shot­gun. He be­gan shoot­ing. He heard a scream.

When he was fin­ished, he said, he thought he had killed three peo­ple and wounded 20. He had un­der­es­ti­mated. And just who were those peo­ple? A means to an end, he told Reid, who has treated thou­sands of pa­tients and tes­ti­fied in 60 to 70 tri­als in 20 states. The vic­tims were “num­bers,” Holmes said, “a con­glom­er­ate mass,” barely hu­man be­ings in their own right.

“I knew it was legally wrong,” he said. “You get pun­ished for killing peo­ple.” But they were “not real peo­ple. It was just kind of amor­phous peo­ple who were go­ing to get hurt.... I didn’t look at them. I didn’t, like, sin­gle them out as in­di­vid­u­als.”

In fact, he said, he could barely see them through the scratched protective lens of his cum­ber­some gas mask as he shot ran­domly into the au­di­to­rium. He wanted it that way, he told Reid.

Holmes didn’t know whom he had killed, and he did not care, he said.

Their deaths, he said early on in the in­ter­view process, had a sim­ple pur­pose: to in­crease his self worth and make him feel bet­ter.

The way Holmes saw it, “if you take away a life, it adds to your own value.... Any­thing they would have done or, like, pur­sued, gets can­celed out and given to me.” It’s a cal­cu­la­tion, he said, that comes from eco­nomics.

There was one thing more.

“Do­ing the homi­cide got me out of de­pres­sion,” he told Reid. “It gave a pur­pose.... The al­ter­na­tive was sui­cide.”

Andy Cross Den­ver Post

JAMES HOLMES, seen in 2013, said in a video he was “calm and col­lected” be­fore the as­sault.

Mark Boster Los An­ge­les Times

BOMB SQUAD mem­bers re­move items from James Holmes’ booby-trapped Aurora, Colo., apart­ment a day af­ter the theater attack in July 2012. Holmes has pleaded not guilty by rea­son of insanity.

Barry Gu­tier­rez As­so­ci­ated Press

HE­LI­COPTERS HOVER over the Cen­tury 16 theater com­plex in Aurora af­ter the attack, which left 12 movie­go­ers dead and 70 oth­ers wounded.

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