IOWA CITY, Iowa | The University of Iowa rejected the suspect in the July 20 shooting rampage at a Colorado movie theater when he applied to a graduate program in neuroscience last year, according to records released Thursday.
James Holmes applied to the Iowa program in late 2010 and was given an interview on Jan. 28, 2011, the records show. Neuroscience program director Daniel Tranel wrote a strongly worded email two days later urging the admissions committee not to accept Holmes to the school.
“James Holmes: Do NOT offer admission under any circumstances,” wrote Tranel, a professor of neurology.
Psychology professor Mark Blumberg followed up with a separate email two days later to say he agreed with Tranel about Holmes, one of three students Blumberg interviewed. “Don’t admit,” he wrote about Holmes. He recommended admission for the other two.
Neither official elaborated on their reasoning in the emails, which are among 12 pages of records the university released about Holmes in response to public records requests filed by The Associated Press and other news outlets.
None of the documents further explain why Holmes’ application was denied. Blumberg said in an email Thursday that he has no specific recollection of Holmes or his opinion, noting officials interview many applicants every year. Tranel didn’t immediately return messages.
Holmes later enrolled as a first-year Ph.D. student in a neuroscience program at the University of Colorado Denver. He withdrew about six weeks before the attack in Aurora, where prosecutors say the 24-year-old opened fire during a midnight showing of the latest Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises,” killing 12 people and injuring 58 others.
A court hearing Thursday afternoon was expected examine Holmes’ relationship with University of Colorado psychiatrist Lynne Fenton, to whom he mailed a package containing a notebook that reportedly contains violent descriptions of an attack.
Tranel’s email indicates Holmes was one of seven applicants who visited the Iowa City campus on the same weekend last year. Tranel recommended four others be offered admission and was undecided about two, describing all as stellar or solid. Holmes was the only one he recommended denying.
The rejection stands in contrast to Holmes’ previously released application to a similar program at the University of Illinois, where he was offered admission with free tuition and $22,000 per year but declined to enroll.
Holmes said on his Iowa application that he also was applying to Texas A&M, Kansas, Michigan, Alabama and Colorado. He painted himself as a bright student who was interested in furthering education to improve himself and help the world with a career in scientific research.
He recalled his childhood in California, where everyone at his school wore white uniforms to curb gang activity.
“Looking back, my life could have gone in a completely different direction had I not possessed the foresight to choose the path of knowledge,” he said.
Holmes wrote that he was passionate about neuroscience and wanted to study “the science of learning, cognition and memory.” He said he would bring “my strong moral upbringing” to the program, along with problem-solving skills and an intense thirst for knowledge.
“I have always been fascinated by the complexities of a long lost thought seemingly arising out of nowhere into a stream of awareness,” he wrote. “These fascinations likely stemmed from my interest in puzzles and paradoxes as an adolescent and continued through my curiosity in academic research.”
The materials included an essay about his work as a counselor to underprivileged children at a summer camp, Camp Max Straus, in Los Angeles in 2008.
Holmes said he was responsible for a dozen 10- and 11-year-old boys who looked to him for “guidance and direction.” He said the campers’ daily free time was chaotic until he took control and made everyone participate in an activity chosen for that day, sometimes allowing them do special activities like “lizard catching” if they were good.
“In the middle of that week when the campers were writing letters to home about their camp experience, one of the little guys asked me how to spell amazing,” he wrote.
Holmes noted an average of two children in each cabin at the camp had ADHD, or attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, and that he mentored one child who had schizophrenia who woke up at 3:30 a.m. and “vacuumed the ceiling of our cabin.”
“The medication changed them from highly energetic creative kids to lax beings who slept through the activities. I wanted to help them but couldn’t,” he wrote. “This is where neuroscience research becomes invaluable.”
He said research could help children and people with cognitive disabilities, and that all of society benefits from a greater understanding of the brain and memory. “We all share one brain, the human brain,” he wrote.
Associated Press writer Colleen Slevin contributed to this report from Denver.