Colorado movie gunman's mother weeps, blames mental illness

James Holmes sits in court for an advisement hearing at the Arapahoe County Justice Center in Centennial, Colorado June 4, 2013. REUTERS/Andy Cross/Pool

By Keith Coffman

CENTENNIAL, Colo. (Reuters) - The mother of Colorado's movie rampage gunman wept on Wednesday as she said a university psychiatrist never told her James Holmes had homicidal thoughts before the massacre, and that she would have "crawled on all fours" to stop him had she known.

Arlene Holmes said she was "totally shocked" when she learned her son James had killed 12 people and wounded 70 in a shooting rampage in a packed movie theater using a semiautomatic rifle, shotgun and pistol.

"We never had guns in the house," she told the jury. "We never were hunters or target shooters. When I heard, I thought 'How does he even know how to use a gun?'"

Her son sat expressionless as she described how he was a kind, polite child who never hurt a soul before he opened fire on July 20, 2012 inside a midnight screening of a Batman film at a multiplex in the Denver suburb of Aurora.

Asked whether she still loves her son, she said yes. Asked why, she replied: "Because I understand he has a serious mental illness that he didn't ask for. Schizophrenia chose him. He didn't choose it."

She recalled that just weeks before the mass shooting, a University of Colorado psychiatrist telephoned her at home in San Diego. In that June 11 call, the psychiatrist said her son had sought counseling for "social anxiety" and was dropping out of his neuroscience graduate program.

Defense lawyer Rebekka Higgs asked whether the psychiatrist told her that her son had admitted to having thoughts about killing people.

"No, never," Holmes' mother told the court.

"Do you wish she had?" Higgs asked.

"Of course I do. I ... of course," she replied, sobbing.

"We wouldn't be sitting here if she told me that. ... I would have been crawling on all fours to get to him. He's never said that he wanted to kill people. She didn't, she didn't, she didn't tell me," she wept. "She didn't tell me."

She testified during the penalty phase of the proceedings. The nine women and three men of the jury have already convicted her 27-year-old son on all 165 counts of murder, attempted murder and explosives charges, and must now decide whether he should be executed or serve life in prison.

Both sides are expected to make 40-minute closing arguments on Thursday. If the jurors decide unanimously that mitigating factors outweigh aggravating ones, Holmes will get an automatic life sentence.

If not, the panel will hear victim impact testimony, and then ultimately deliberate on whether he should be executed.


Throughout the proceedings, Holmes has shown little reaction as he sits, tethered to the floor below his attorney's desk. Prosecutors have portrayed him as a calculating killer who hid his detailed preparations from everyone, including his parents.

The CU psychiatrist, Dr. Lynne Fenton, testified earlier during the trial and described meeting with Holmes several times when she was medical director for student mental health services at the university's Anschutz Medical Campus.

Fenton said Holmes admitted to having homicidal thoughts, but she said he told her nothing about having plans or targets, nor did he mention hearing voices, or suffering from hallucinations, mania, or depression.

If he had, she testified, she likely would have placed him on a mental health hold and contacted the police.

Fenton has been sued by a victim's widow who says she had a duty to protect the public. That lawsuit is on hold until after the trial.

Arlene Holmes, a registered nurse, told the court her son did have issues with anxiety growing up. They practiced using the telephone together when he was in middle school, she said, "so he didn't get stressed by it."

After leaving home for graduate school in Colorado, he emailed her to say he was having problems giving presentations.

"I told him, 'Just keep trying,' ... excuse me," she said, wiping away a tear. "But I didn't realize that his loudest cry for help was his silence."

Earlier on Wednesday, Holmes' father testified how FBI agents quizzed him at an airport just hours after the rampage. He said the agents were interested in whether his son might be a "terrorist."

(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Additional reporting and writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by David Gregorio)