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Public Safety

Colorado Shooting Suspect Went To San Diego High School

James Holmes' Westview High School yearbook photo.
James Holmes' Westview High School yearbook photo.

A 24-year-old college student accused of killing at least a dozen people and injuring at least 50 others in a massacre in a Colorado movie theater early today has roots in San Diego. He graduated from a high school in Rancho Penasquitos, where his parents still live.

UC Riverside Press Conference


Around daybreak, San Diego police officers went to a two-story home on Sparren Avenue to provide security for the family of James Holmes as media crews began to assemble outside. Family friends identified Holmes as a 2006 graduate of Westview High School at 13500 Camino Del Sur, according to broadcast reports.

Holmes is in custody in Colorado, accused of going into a midnight showing of the Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises" and opening fire on moviegoers around 12:40 a.m. The motive is unclear.

After graduating from Westview, Holmes attended a biotech bootcamp at Miramar College in 2006. His photo is shown in this flier. CBS reported he then did an internship at the Salk Institute, but a spokeswoman for the institute said it was against their policy to comment on personnel issues. He attended UC Riverside from 2006 to 2010 and was reported to have earned a bachelor's degree in neuroscience.

A Westview classmate of Holmes' told KPBS he was often mean and picked on other students, calling them names. The classmate, who asked not to be identified, said Holmes thought he was better and smarter than other people, including the teachers.

But Anthony Mai, 16, who lives next door to the Holmes family in the well-kempt Rancho Penasquitos neighborhood, said he remembers Holmes as a "friendly guy."


"He didn't seem like a person who would do that, you know," Mai said. "I've known him my whole life. I didn't know him that well, but, I mean he just felt like a normal guy, and I don't think he would be going around with guns shooting people."

Media began to gather outside the Rancho Penasquitos home after ABC News phoned Holmes' mother early today and quoted her as confirming her relationship to the alleged shooter.

"The police will be here as long as we're needed to preserve the peace of the neighborhood," Lt. Andra Brown, a San Diego police spokeswoman, told reporters.

In a statement, the Holmes family said their hearts go out to the victims of the shooting and their loved ones. They also asked the media to respect the family's privacy and their neighbors.

"As you can understand, the Holmes family is very upset by this -- it's a tragic event," Brown said, adding that family members are fully cooperating with authorities both in San Diego and Colorado.

This morning's massacre took place in Aurora, nine miles outside Denver. Holmes was taken into police custody in the theater's parking lot shortly after the gunfire broke out, authorities said.

San Diego police Chief William Lansdowne said officers went to the Sparren Avenue home to provide security to the Holmes family and assist Aurora police by gathering information for that agency's investigation.

Shortly before 7:30 a.m., police were spotted escorting a man out of the Sparren Avenue home and whisking him away in an unmarked police sedan. There was no immediate word on where the man was headed or his possible relation to the alleged shooter, but he was carrying what appeared to be luggage. Brown later said the man was the suspect's father, but she declined to say where he was going.

Holmes allegedly wore what appeared to be a bullet-proof vest and riot- type mask as he opened fire in the Century Aurora 16 movie theater with three weapons. Authorities said at least 12 people died and 51 were wounded.

The theater is about five miles from Holmes' Aurora third-story apartment, which was being searched by police for explosives and more weapons. Holmes apparently acted alone, authorities said.

While the shooting isn’t shutting down screenings of the Batman movie in San Diego, it is raising questions about safety.

Victor Dawson, who is visiting San Diego from Tracy, Calif., said he was worried about taking his family to see a movie, but didn’t worry so much that he stayed away.

“It was so far away, although these things happen with the people, it was still so far away so we knew we couldn’t just stay in our hotel and not do anything, so.…it was okay," Dawson said.

Some local theater managers said they plan to be open for business as usual, but they are putting extra security in place. AMC Theaters, which is screening Batman in San Diego, said in a statement that it plans to review safety procedures. UltraStar Cinemas also said in a statement that "security and safety of our staff and guests is and has always been our top priority."

San Diego State University business lecturer Wendy Patrick said awareness is the key.

“People need to pay more attention and that‘s common sense, we all know that," she said. "But that actually is the answer to both, what can businesses do to protect themselves and their customers and what can we do to protect ourselves and our loved ones.”

Detroit native Brad Carroll said while it’s a tragedy, it won’t change how he lives life.

“I’m gonna go to the restaurants, the bars, theaters, places I like to go," he said. "And obviously if something like that happens, its not great for me, but I’m not going to change the way I like to live my life."

KPBS has created a public safety coverage policy to guide decisions on what stories we prioritize, as well as whose narratives we need to include to tell complete stories that best serve our audiences. This policy was shaped through months of training with the Poynter Institute and feedback from the community. You can read the full policy here.