Mother of Colorado theater shooting suspect feels guilt over not knowing of his mental illness

The mother of Colorado theater shooting defendant James Holmes feels guilty for not knowing her son was mentally ill and needed treatment, she wrote in a book of prayers and reflections compiled since the 2012 attack.

Arlene Holmes wrote in "When The Focus Shifts: The Prayer Book of Arlene Holmes 2013-2014," that she can never forgive herself for not predicting the shooting, which left 12 dead and 70 others injured.

"I wrote Jim a letter telling him I am sorry I did not know that he was mentally ill," she wrote in a March 2014 passage. "The letter did not assuage my guilt. I apologize to the whole world. I was uneducated. So many deceased and so many badly injured, and I am still alive."

Holmes announced the book to the Del Mar Times ( in her first interview since the shooting. She and her husband told the newspaper they are bracing themselves for their son's trial and still hope their son's life can be spared through a plea deal. Opening statements in the death penalty case are scheduled for April 27.

"This book is being published to raise awareness of the immorality of the death penalty and the futility of seeking justice through execution," she wrote in the book, which was taken largely from her handwritten journals.

The rest of the book contains prayers for prosecutors and defense attorneys alike, her experiences in the courtroom and reflections on her own struggles with depression after the shooting. She writes that she prays for victims daily, naming each of them. She also laments what she sees as a lack of compassion for the mentally ill.

Holmes' parents and attorneys have said he was in the grips of a psychotic episode when he slipped into the suburban Denver movie theater and opened fire, but the book offers no new insight into his diagnosis.

In an entry from Jan. 12, 2013, called "Preliminary Hearing Memories," she recalled the violence and wrote, "What were you thinking, Jim? And what are you thinking now? Praying for Jim in jail; please don't commit suicide. You lived so that we could understand you and others could study you and learn to prevent future tragedy."

In another from March 22, 2013, titled "Memories," she wrote that her recollections of her son as empathetic and responsible don't explain the shooting.

"My son never harmed anyone," she wrote. "People think he is a monster, but he has a disease that changed his brain."

The book comes as defense attorneys have asked a judge to move the proceedings out of the suburban Denver community where the attack occurred, saying pretrial publicity has made many prospective jurors biased against Holmes.

Some victims' families questioned the timing.

"I can only think this is some kind of ploy. This is some type of strategy cooked up by the defense to try to save someone's life," said Tom Sullivan, whose son Alex was killed in the shooting. Holmes' mother's thoughts and apologies mean little to him, he said. "As far as people I think about on a daily basis, they are so far down the list it's not worth mentioning."

Marcus Weaver, who was shot in the arm and whose friend Rebecca Wingo died in the attack, echoed Sullivan's belief that the timing of the book was choreographed to drum up sympathy for Holmes right before the trial is set to begin.

"It just brings it all back, the hurt. It's not even healthy for us to read that book," Weaver said. "What's it going to do for a victim, a survivor to read that book? ... The jury is going to decide his fate. His mom can't decide it."

Neither Holmes' parents nor an attorney representing them immediately responded to requests for comment. Arlene Holmes said her son's defense team had no knowledge of the book.

A spokeswoman for District Attorney George Brauchler declined to comment on the book, citing a gag order that prevents those involved in the case from talking about it. But in court filings released Monday, prosecutors, arguing against a change in venue, wrote that the one piece of pretrial publicity that may have been most memorable to prospective jurors was a letter Holmes' parents wrote to The Denver Post, presumably to garner sympathy for their son.

After the trial, according to one passage, Holmes' parents would like to meet with victims' families to "give them information, when we get information."

"We can answer some questions, but never can answer 'Why?'"


Associated Press writers Donna Bryson, P. Solomon Banda and Thomas Peipert contributed to this report.