Holmes, who was in the process of withdrawing from the university at the time of the shooting, had at some point come under the care of university psychiatrist Lynne Fenton, according to a document filed in court. And Fenton was in a prime position to deal with a potentially dangerous student. According to university records, in 2010 Fenton helped establish the school’s Behavioral Evaluation and Threat Assessment, or BETA, team.
The team has addressed “more than a dozen issues” since its founding, a university spokeswoman said this week. Citing a judge’s gag order, the spokeswoman would not say if one of those cases involved Holmes.
But Denver television station KMGH reported Wednesday evening, citing unnamed sources, that Fenton had called members of the team with concerns about Holmes in early June. The team reportedly decided not to take action once Holmes began to withdraw on June 10.
The university has declined to verify the report, but Wednesday the University of Colorado’s general counsel released a statement that said, in part: “The BETA team is not a law enforcement mechanism.” Fenton has not returned phone calls and messages and did not answer the door at her home.
The university has become a fortress of silence since the theater shooting, but some members of the community here have expressed dismay that one of their own allegedly planned mass murder without detection.
“The signs are there, people just have to look for them,” said Justin Beasley, 32, a fourth-generation Aurora resident as he sat at a park watching his two children play. “We live in a crazy world, and there are a lot of scary people out there who have access to such horrible weapons. It scares me, it scares my wife, it scares all of us.”
One woman, 48, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the preliminary nature of what is known about Holmes, said, “It’s just like with Penn State. Universities are insular, and they tell each other things, but they don’t tell anyone else.”
Experts on threat assessment say it’s an inherently tricky enterprise. They say the most dangerous people do not fit a simple profile. Some of the personality traits common among mass murderers are indistinguishable from the characteristics of harmless individuals who sit quietly in their room playing video games.
Numerous universities have set up threat-assessment teams like the one in Colorado. These groups typically operate above the usual silos of command and protocols in their efforts to identify students, faculty or staff members who might try to harm themselves or others.