New details from thousands of emails released Wednesday reveal Colorado gunman James Holmes had a girlfriend around the time of the attack.
His girlfriend was in India at the time of the mass shooting and, according to e-mails, was “pretty freaked out”.
The new information also reveals detailed information about the fear and confusion in the wake of the Aurora, Colorado massacre.
Many of the emails are partially or completely blacked out, the university says to avoid violating privacy laws.
The result is minimal information on James Holmes’ struggles at the school or whether the institution recognized the danger he may have represented.
The emails do shed some light on how the university responded to news that one of its students was allegedly responsible for the attack that killed 12 people and wounded 58 on July 22nd.
James Holmes’ name began to circulate in news reports a few hours after the early-morning shooting.
At 6:47 a.m., Angie Ribera, director of the neuroscience program, noted that the shooter could be the 24-year-old of the same name who had just withdrawn from her department.
“Do you think we should meet with students in his class?” she asked colleagues.
“If they had been close to him, this would definitely be something that I think we should do. But as they were not, I do not know.”
An hour later, officials confirmed James Holmes was the former graduate student, and Ribera grew more alarmed. At the time, police were trying to remove booby-traps he allegedly left at his nearby apartment before leaving for the midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises.
Angie Ribera sent an email to another senior faculty member noting that Holmes was in custody.
“However, he was friendly with 1-2 students in another program and I am worried about the safety of all (neuroscience) students and Faculty as well as the safety of all (medical) students.”
At 8:02am, the administrator of the neuroscience program broke the news to students there and urged them not to post anything to Facebook or Twitter.
Campus officials quickly sought to control the flow of information.
As reporters began to bombard James Holmes’ few acquaintance and professors with inquiries, administrators urged faculty and students to refer all media calls to a spokeswoman.
Faculty quickly began emailing with each other and friends about the news. Larry Hunter, who is listed as director of the Center for Computational Bioscience, was asked about the shooting by a friend.
“Yeah, he was a grad student here, and, it turns out, had a brief romantic relationship with one of the grad students in my program last fall,” Larry Hunter wrote.
“She, fortunately, it turns out is in India right now.”
“She knows and is pretty freaked out,” he said.
Larry Hunter said Wednesday he would not comment.
James Holmes allegedly began stockpiling firearms and ammunition while taking classes in the spring.
In June, prosecutors say, he made threats to a professor, and he filed withdrawal papers June 10 after failing a year-end exam.
The next day he saw his school psychiatrist, who tried to report him to a campus security committee, according to Holmes’ lawyers.
KMGH in Denver Wednesday night reported that that psychiatrist, Dr. Lynne Fenton, reached out to campus police partly because James Holmes talked about killing “a lot of people” but that she opted not to place him under a psychiatric hold because he was withdrawing from the school.
A spokeswoman said she could not comment on the report.
Four days after the attack, campus police chief Doug Abraham said at a news conference that campus police had no information on James Holmes.
The school has since declined to answer detailed questions about James Holmes’ behavior, citing a gag order that remains in effect and federal privacy laws that limit the amount of medical and academic information it can disclose.
Those laws also limited the number of documents released Wednesday.
At the request of defense attorneys, about 100 emails between James Holmes and his family and friends were withheld because they are not covered under Colorado’s Open Records Act.
The remaining documents were released only after a lengthy court battle.
In correspondence from August 7th, an assistant professor told colleagues that he interviewed James Holmes for about 30 minutes during a recruitment visit in February 2011, then noted that his evaluation of Holmes was entered into an internal university system and was still available for examination.
In later correspondence, the campus director of academic support services suggested that the university was looking to get rid of that evaluation from the system.
Jim Finster, the campus director of academic support services, recalled that attorney Annalissa Philbin had “instructed me to purge those data”.
“Admittedly, I have not completed that task yet, but was planning on doing it very shortly,” Jim Finster wrote in an email to Annalissa Philbin.
“Should I change those plans?”
It’s unclear if Annalissa Philbin responded, but the university’s director of media relations forwarded the exchange to another attorney with a blunt message: “What??”
On Wednesday, university officials provided a later email, from August 8th, in which Annalissa Philbin said no information should be purged at that time.
In the days after the shooting, the Arapahoe County District Attorney’s office asked Judge William B. Sylvester to bar the university from releasing records requested by numerous media organizations.
Prosecutors argued that the information could jeopardize James Holmes’ right to a fair trial. Sylvester agreed, but amended his order last month to allow the release after media organizations objected in court.
James Holmes is charged with multiple first-degree murder and attempted murder counts.
He has not entered a plea and won’t do so until after a weeklong preliminary hearing in which prosecutors will present evidence supporting the charges.
That hearing is scheduled to begin January 7th.
James Holmes’ attorneys have said he suffers from a mental illness.