BYERS, Colo. – Less than a month before carrying out the midnight movie massacre that left 12 dead, suspected shooter James Holmes applied for membership at a private gun range, unnerving the club’s owner whose calls to Holmes’ apartment reached a “creepy, weird” Batman-inspired voicemail message.
“His answering machine message was incoherent, just bizarre, really bizarre -- slurring words, but he didn’t sound drunk, just strange -- I could make out “James” somewhere in it,” Glenn Rotkovich, of the Lead Valley Range, in Byers, Colo., told FoxNews.com.
“I told my staff, here’s the name -- James Holmes -- this is the person. If he shows up come get me. I need to talk to him before anything else,” he added. “I said, I’m not sure about this guy.’ It was kind of bizarre.”
Holmes is accused of opening fire inside a movie theater, killing a dozen and injuring scores during the midnight premiere of the latest Batman movie “The Dark Knight Rises” early Friday morning in Aurora, Colo. He dyed his hair red, wore full body armor and a gas mask, carried an assault rifle, shotgun, two handguns and, after being arrested in the parking lot, told cops he was the Joker, police said. Police believe Holmes had planned and prepared for months for the attack, which may have cost the unemployed student as much as $8,000, officials said.
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When Rotkovich’s wife awakened him on Friday morning with news of the awful tragedy, the name sounded familiar. As the story unfolded, he began to figure out that he had had a strange brush with the suspect. First came word the shooter’s mother was named Arlene and lived in San Diego, which matched the application’s emergency contact information. Then, he saw TV reporters near Holmes’ apartment building and verified it matched the address.
“I said, ‘Yes, this looks like it’s him,’” Rotkovich recalled. “Too many coincidences for it not to be him.”
Rotkovich told police about his chilling encounter with Holmes, and when he was able to give them previously unreported information about the suspect, they were interested, he said. He’s since told them everything he knows and provided them with a copy of Holmes’ electronic application to join his range.
Membership dues at the Lead Valley Range run $150 a year with a $100 initiation fee the first year. It was less than a month ago, on June 25, at exactly 5 p.m., when Holmes emailed his Lead Valley Range application, a copy of which was obtained by FoxNews.com.
Rotkovich says he always needs to get to know the applicant a little before considering people for membership at his family’s range, and Holmes’s application was business-like and devoid of any personal information. Rotkovich planned to vet Holmes in person before he would be allowed to step on the range and pick up a weapon, let alone become a member.
In answering the questions found on the range’s standard application form, Holmes listed his marital status as “single,” said he was not a member of the National Rifle Association and claimed to have heard about Lead Valley online. Staffers at the range said they did not know who might have referred Holmes.
He also checked off boxes saying he wasn’t prohibited by law from possessing firearms or ammunition; had not been convicted of any domestic violence offense and was not facing pending felony criminal charges or domestic offenses. He also said he was not an unlawful user or addicted to a controlled substance.
The one-line email to which he attached the application concluded with a curt and businesslike sentence signed in a way that further put off the rural Colorado gun range proprietor: “Cheers, James,” according to a copy obtained by FoxNews.com.
"That also struck me as very, very strange,” Rotkovich said. “Who says ‘Cheers?’”
He called Holmes to follow up, he said, and to make sure he could attend the mandatory pre-membership orientation and safety rules training. That’s when he heard the strange message, which when Rotkovich tried to imitate it, sounded like a mix of moaning in the background and movie-character-like exaggerated squeals and laughter.
“In hindsight, looking back -- and if I’d seen the movies -- maybe I’d say it was like the Joker -- I would have gotten the Joker out of it,” he said. “It was like somebody was trying to be as weird as possible,” he said.
After calling back two more times several days apart and getting that same message, he alerted his staff.
Rotkovich never heard from Holmes again.
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