For the third straight day, as a riveted courtroom heard grisly new details about Aurora, Colo., shooter James Holmes’s July rampage—this time that he scoped out the movie theater in advance, snapping photos along the way—there was one woman, her hair dyed red in solidarity, who was firmly on the gunman’s side.
“It seems crazy, but I’m not crazy,” Misty Benjamin, 30, says of her hair. “I wanted something that if he saw me he knew it would be me—a supporter.” An Aurora resident who lives just four miles from the apartment Holmes set up as an explosive booby trap on the day of the massacre, Benjamin has been watching the trial from an overflow courtroom at the Arapahoe County courthouse.
“Even after everything I heard, I can still say I can still support this human being,” she says after the day’s proceedings. “He is not an animal. I don’t think he is a bad guy. What he did was bad.”
Benjamin, along with about 500 reporters, media members, and victims’ family members, was watching Wednesday as prosecutors showed photos Holmes had taken on his iPhone just days and weeks before he went on the alleged rampage. One of the pictures shows Holmes, wearing black contact lenses and sporting bright orange hair, with a large toothy grin holding the muzzle end of a Glock pistol. Another depicts the 25-year-old former neuroscience doctoral student wearing body armor with an assault rifle slung over his shoulder.
“When they showed photos of him, everything I saw were cries for help,” said Benjamin, who says she joined the church of Latter Day Saints nine years ago after her dentist committed suicide and is dating a man who knows of her affection for the accused killer. “He wanted someone to stop him. He knows he is in trouble. He stands and sits when he is told. There is a kidlike quality to him.”
Written in Misty’s yellow notebook, which she carries to court each day: “We are not supposed to go through life alone, so why should James go through his trial alone? James is not alone, he has me.” On her wrist she wears a pink plastic bracelet with the word “besties.” Her best friend from Michigan, whom she met on the Facebook page “James Holmes is Innocent,” wears a matching bracelet.
Prodded, Benjamin admits that she keeps photos of Holmes in her wallet and on her bedroom wall. “When I get upset, I look at his picture and I calm down.”
Perhaps surprisingly, Benjamin is just one of a macabre group of Holmes supporters who have found their way to the courthouse to voice their solidarity with the man accused of killing 12 people and injuring 58 others at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises.
But don’t mistake her for a “Holmie,” she says. That’s the name generally given to Holmes’s online groupies, a following that, since July, has banded together to send letters to Holmes in jail, wear plaid shirts, drink Slurpees (Holmes made reference in an earlier video that he wanted to own a Slurpee machine after senior year), and eat at Subway, the sandwich shop where Holmes ate regularly when he was a student at the university.
“I pretended to be a Holmie in the past,” Benjamin admits as she takes a small bite of her egg-salad sandwich at a Starbucks a few miles from the courthouse. “On a couple of days I wore plaid and ate at Subway.” But then, even in the safe haven of the Internet, she says she became disillusioned with what others thought of her.
“The others were all cattiness towards each other and a lot of drama. There were attacks on me personally. They said I am ugly and need to wear makeup. I try to keep my comments drama-free. It is about James ... I don’t think the way they do, because I don’t think he is innocent and he wasn’t set up.”
Indeed, posts about breaking Holmes out of jail and the notion that the 24-year-old was set up by the government are common on “Holmie” forums. Benjamin disagrees. “It makes people who actually care for James look horrible. I am more realistic than them ... I think conspiracy theories take away from his intellect. By saying the government did this, it takes away from his agency and ability to speak.”
Benjamin officially parted ways with the Holmies in the fall. In late October, she started her own Facebook page for Holmes called “We Care About James Holmes.” That page, which has 16 likes as of this writing, is “about supporting James Holmes as a person, free from drama and hatred towards each other.”
Why Benjamin became a Holmes groupie in the first place, she says, can be traced back to the day after the shooting, when his mugshot was transmitted around the world. Benjamin, who says she has never met Holmes despite living nearby on Paris Street, felt an instant connection. That’s when, she says, things got “inky.”
“When I first saw him, I was physically attracted to him,” she admits. “I thought, oh crap. I think he is cute. I want to say it upset me, but I was conflicted. It was like a burden. I don’t want this. I went into my bedroom and poured out my heart to the Heavenly Father. I didn’t want to like him. I stood up and said, it’s OK. I need to learn something from this.”
Since Holmes has been in jail, Benjamin has sent him a letter of support as well as a Christmas card of a llama. “He once took a picture of himself with a llama for his college application,” she said. “I don’t hate him. I didn’t condone what he did, but I don’t hate him.”
Holmes’s defense attorneys declined to present their case at the end of Wednesday’s court session, saying it wasn’t worthwhile to present a “mini-trial” before the real deal, which doesn’t yet have an official date. As for Benjamin, she knows she’ll have to come to terms with the situation.
“Maybe down the road I won’t think of him as much, but he will always be with me. I think of it as a crush. It ain’t going to go anywhere, and that is what crushes are: things that don’t go anywhere. I had crushes on ’N Sync and the Backstreet Boys. I still have a crush on Nick Carter. As James isn’t in the news as much, it will dissipate, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care anymore. Life changes, and it doesn’t mean you don’t give a damn anymore.”