And then something changed. By this spring, Holmes had begun to struggle with poor test scores. He eventually decided to quit school.
The next step, the alleged descent into horrific violence, remains mysterious.
As of Friday evening, no one had emerged to speak on Holmes’s behalf. He will appear in court Monday and is expected to be formally charged a few days later.
What’s certain is that the killer planned his crime carefully, gearing up as if he were a commando, or a bad guy in a movie, before invading the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora during a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises.”
The shooter wore a ballistic helmet, ballistic vest, ballistic leggings, a throat protector, a groin protector, gloves, a gas mask — all black. Police say Holmes killed a dozen people and left 58 others injured, many critically with gunshot wounds, before surrendering without incident when police confronted him behind the theater.
Police would not discuss any motive for the massacre. They said Holmes revealed to them during questioning that there were explosives in his apartment in Aurora. They went to the complex and, peering through a window, discovered that it was booby-trapped with multiple chemical and incendiary devices linked by wires.
What happened in Aurora had a grisly echo of another massacre in a Denver suburb, that at Columbine High School in Littleton in 1999. Both had elements of theatricality and a clear desire for maximum casualties and publicity.
Michael Welner, a forensic psychiatrist who, as chairman of the Forensic Panel of New York City has studied and testified about mass shootings, said these cases invariably feature a person who is highly paranoid, resents the broader community and decides to kill out of a desire to achieve notoriety.
“They’re people who are unfailingly unable to form satisfying sexual attachments, and their masculinity essentially gets replaced with their fascination for destruction,” Welner said. “The overwhelming majority of folks who do this are male because of how, in our culture, masculine identity is so closely tied to the capacity to destroy.”
But Jeffrey Swanson, a professor at Duke University School of Medicine who is an expert on violence and mental illness, said people should not jump to conclusions about why a person becomes a mass killer.
“They tend to be young and male and tend to be sort of isolated. The problem with that is that there are tens of thousands of people who meet the same description and never do anything like this,” Swanson said.