DENVER – The Colorado theater shooting suspect left a good impression on people he met in his pursuit of a neuroscience career, with a reference describing him as having a "great amount of intellectual and emotional maturity."
That account came in a recommendation letter sent to the University of Illinois' neuroscience program as part of James Holmes' application to the school last year. The names of those who wrote the letter were blacked out.
The letter and all of the university's documents related to Holmes were provided to The Associated Press on Friday after an open records request. The News-Gazette in Champaign, Ill., first obtained the documents.
Holmes declined to attend the highly selective program, and instead attended the University of Colorado, Denver, studying neuroscience until he dropped out in June. He gave no reason for declining the Illinois offer, and no reason for dropping out in Colorado.
University of Colorado officials have declined to release Holmes' records, citing a Colorado judge's gag order that does not apply to other states.
Holmes is accused of killing 12 people and wounding 58 in the attack during a midnight showing of the new Batman movie. Holmes attorneys say that he is mentally ill.
Letters, his resume and a personal statement written by Holmes paint a picture a bright student who was committed to pursuing a career as cognitive neuroscientist.
"Researching learning and memory interests me because these are the very cognitive processes which enable us to acquire information and retain it," he wrote in his personal statement. "They are at the core of what distinguishes us as people."
In recommendation letters, Holmes is described as being in the top 1 percent of his honors classes with a cumulative grade point average of 3.949.
"He takes an active role in his education, and brings a great amount of intellectual and emotional maturity into the classroom," one recommendation letter reads. "James received excellent evaluations from the professors and graduate students with whom he worked and was mentored."
Another letter describes him as "a very effective group leader" on assignments.
That description is a stark contrast to his demeanor in court, where he seems dazed, looking straight ahead and avoiding eye contact with those sitting in the courtroom.
As part of his application, Holmes submitted a picture of himself standing next to a llama. It's unclear whether he submitted the photo as a way to make his application stand out, but it seemed to work.
Samuel Beshers, neuroscience program coordinator, referred to Holmes as "llama" in emails. Beshers did not return a message left at the school.
"Your personal and professional qualities are truly outstanding," and "you will be an excellent match for our program," read the letter accepting Holmes into the program after the school paid his travel expenses for a visit.
At least two researchers were vying for Holmes to join their laboratories, and the school offered him a stipend $22,600 per year and free tuition.
Holmes sent an email to the school declining their offer.
"My apologies for any inconvenience this may have caused," he wrote. "Best wishes in your candidate search."