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Theater-shooting suspect James Holmes' emails released, many documents redacted

9:52 PM, Dec 5, 2012   |    comments
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As professors and others questioned what to do and feared for their safety, some shared the tidbits they knew about Holmes via email. He briefly had a girlfriend, who was in India at the time of the attack. He had a few friends, though none in the neuroscience program he'd just left.

The new details are in thousands emails the 9Wants to Know investigators recieved Wednesday from the University of Colorado

More than 1,500 emails from Holmes' email accounts were released. About 2,700 emails were identified, but the additional emails were not subject to disclosure because the university deemed them private and says they are student records as defined in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

An additional 100 records from Holmes' email accounts were not produced because the Colorado Public Defender, which is representing Holmes, says they are personal and private and thus not subject to the Colorado Open Records Act.

More than 3,000 emails were discovered on university email services referencing James Holmes as well.

Nearly 2,300 were produced via CD, Steve Zweck-Bronner, Managing Senior Associate University Council wrote in an email to 9NEWS.

The emails do shed some light on how the university responded to news that one of its students was allegedly responsible for the attack that killed 12 people and wounded 58 on July 20.

Holmes' name began to circulate in news reports a few hours after the early-morning shooting. At 6:47 a.m., Angie Ribera, director of the neuroscience program, noted that the shooter could be the 24-year-old of the same name who had just withdrawn from her department.

"Do you think we should meet with students in his class?" she asked colleagues. "If they had been close to him, this would definitely be something that I think we should do. But as they were not, I do not know."

An hour later, officials confirmed James Holmes was the former graduate student, and Ribera grew more alarmed. At the time, police were trying to remove booby-traps he allegedly left at his nearby apartment before leaving for the midnight screening of "The Dark Knight Rises."

Ribera sent an email to another senior faculty member noting that Holmes was in custody. "However, he was friendly with 1-2 students in another program and I am worried about the safety of all (neuroscience) students and Faculty as well as the safety of all (medical) students."

At 8:02 a.m., the administrator of the neuroscience program broke the news to students there and urged them not to post anything to Facebook or Twitter. Campus officials quickly sought to control the flow of information. As reporters began to bombard Holmes' few acquaintance and professors with inquiries, administrators urged faculty and students to refer all media calls to a spokeswoman.

Faculty quickly began emailing with each other and friends about the news. Larry Hunter, who is listed as director of the Center for Computational Bioscience, was asked about the shooting by a friend. "Yeah, he was a grad student here, and, it turns out, had a brief romantic relationship with one of the grad students in my program last fall," Hunter wrote. "She, fortunately, it turns out is in India right now."

"She knows," Hunter added, "and is pretty freaked out."

Hunter said Wednesday he would not comment.

Holmes allegedly began stockpiling firearms and ammunition while taking classes in the spring. In June, prosecutors say, he made threats to a professor, and he filed withdrawal papers June 10 after failing a year-end exam. The next day he saw his school psychiatrist, who tried to report him to a campus security committee, according to Holmes' lawyers.

In correspondence from Aug. 7, an assistant professor told colleagues that he interviewed Holmes for about 30 minutes during a recruitment visit in February 2011, then noted that his evaluation of Holmes was entered into an internal university system and was still available for examination. In later correspondence, the campus director of academic support services suggested that the university was looking to get rid of that evaluation from the system.

Jim Finster, the campus director of academic support services, recalled that attorney Annalissa Philbin had "instructed me to purge those data."

"Admittedly, I have not completed that task yet, but was planning on doing it very shortly," Finster wrote in an email to Philbin. "Should I change those plans?"

It's unclear if Philbin responded, but the university's director of media relations forwarded the exchange to another attorney with a blunt message: "What??"

On Wednesday, university officials provided a later email, from Aug. 8, in which Philbin said no information should be purged at that time.

In the days after the shooting, the Arapahoe County District Attorney's office asked Judge William B. Sylvester to bar the university from releasing records requested by numerous media organizations. Prosecutors argued that the information could jeopardize Holmes' right to a fair trial. Sylvester agreed, but amended his order last month to allow the release after media organizations objected in court.

Other highlights from the recently-released documents:

  • One of the emails showed Holmes was interested in a family-medicine residency position
  • One research assistant said in an email: "[Holmes] could have done this on campus instead of the movies."
  • Holmes wrote one person, saying he wanted to participate in an fMRI study - which stands for functional magnetic resonance imaging.
  • Holmes signed his emails "Cheers, James Holmes."

9NEWS is still reviewing the documents currently. Many of the pages have the phrase "Privilege - Redacted in Full" on them, per the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act.

Holmes is accused of killing 12 people and injuring 58 others on July 20 during a shooting rampage at an Aurora movie theater.

Holmes remains locked up at the Arapahoe County Detention Center.

Have a comment or tip for investigative reporter Jace Larson? call him at 303-871-1432 or e-mail him

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(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation with The Associated Press)

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