Who is James “Jimmy” Eagan Holmes, the six-foot-three 24-year-old from suburban San Diego suspected of massacring 12 people in a Colorado theater last night?
That was certainly the question on everyone’s mind today in Torrey Highlands, a quiet, upper-middle-class suburb of two-story homes in northern San Diego, where his parents still live—and where police arrived at dawn this morning to provide the family security as a media mob gathered outside.
Neighbors describe Holmes as someone who was quiet and kept to himself. He apparently didn’t have a wide circle of friends, but neighbors also say he didn’t appear to have issues that would suggest he would ever commit such a heinous crime.
“When I heard [the news] I was frozen,” says Dorothy Templeton, who was walking her dog in the neighborhood on Friday. “We don’t know the family well, but I’ve seen him [James] before and I know people who know him pretty well. He’s not someone you’d think would do anything violent. It’s frightening.
"They live so close, it’s a shock,” Templeton adds. “This could have happened here, it could have happened on this street or at his high school or at a movie theater here.” The community of Torrey Highlands—which is 50 percent white, 30 percent Asian, 5 percent Hispanic, and 1 percent African-American—is attractive to families because of the highly rated schools in the area and its location, which is suburban but not too far from the heart of San Diego.
The uncle of the alleged shooter, also named James Holmes, told NBC News that he was “blown away” by the news that his nephew “Jimmy” had been arrested. The elder Holmes said he was “horrified” by what happened in Colorado and described his nephew as a “nerd” and “unassuming.” Anthony Mai, 16, who grew up next door to Holmes, told the Associated Press that the suspect is a “solitary” person. “He felt a little bit concealed, but it wasn’t too much. It was all right,” said Mai. “This is just a feeling in my gut, but I felt like he had something, like he was being picked on or something.”
Holmes graduated in 2006 from Westview High School, part of the Poway Unified School District, which is known for being one of the best academic school districts in Southern California. He played soccer and ran cross country, according to the NBC affiliate in San Diego.
Holmes had no criminal record in San Diego County. “We ran his name through felony, misdemeanor, and traffic, and there is absolutely nothing, not even a parking or speeding ticket,” San Diego Superior Court spokesperson Karen Dalton tells The Daily Beast.
Ross French, a spokesman for the University of California, Riverside, which is northeast of San Diego, says Holmes enrolled at that university in the fall of 2006 and graduated in spring 2010 with a bachelor's degree in neuroscience. Campus police say Holmes was, to their knowledge, never involved in any trouble while spending his four years as an undergraduate in Riverside. Holmes was pursuing a Ph.D. in neuroscience at the University of Colorado Denver graduate school, but reportedly dropped out last month for reasons not yet known.
Lt. Andra Brown of the San Diego police said this morning that the family has had no contact with James since the incident. Holmes’s mother told ABC News her son was likely the shooter. “You have the right person,” she said. "I need to call the police ... I need to fly out to Colorado.” Brown told the media mob gathered in front of the family’s two-story home on Sparren Avenue that the family is asking for privacy and does not wish to comment at this time. She added, “There have been family friends who have come by to offer support at this time.”
Phone calls placed to the Holmes family home were not answered, but the family did release this statement: “Our hearts go out to those who were involved in this tragedy and to the families and friends of those involved. We ask that the media respect our privacy during this difficult time. Our family is cooperating with authorities in both San Diego, California, and Aurora, Colorado. We are still trying to process this information and we appreciate that people will respect our privacy.”
While the tragedy is a grim reminder for Colorado residents of the Columbine High School shootings in 1999, San Diegans have been reminded of the horrific shooting spree that left 21 people dead at a McDonald’s restaurant in 1984 in San Ysidro, which is just south of San Diego along the Mexican border.
People here are reminded today, too, of another young man from San Diego who was also by all accounts intelligent and ambitious: Andrew Cunanan. In 1997 Cunanan went on a nationwide killing spree that led to the death of five people, including designer Gianni Versace, before Cunanan committed suicide.