School faces new questions in Colorado massacre
CENTENNIAL — New questions confronted the University of Colorado, Denver on Friday amid disclosures that a psychiatrist who treated theater shooting suspect James Holmes had warned campus police a month before the deadly assault that Holmes was dangerous and had homicidal thoughts.
Court documents made public Thursday revealed Dr. Lynne Fenton also told a campus police officer in June that the shooting suspect had threatened and intimidated her.
Fenton’s blunt warning came more than a month before the July 20 attack at a movie theater that killed 12 and injured 70. Holmes had been a student in the university’s Ph.D. neuroscience program but withdrew about six weeks before the shootings after failing a key examination.
Campus police officer Lynn Whitten told investigators after the shooting that Fenton had contacted her. Whitten said Fenton was following her legal requirement to report threats to authorities, according one of the documents, a search warrant affidavit.
“Dr. Fenton advised that through her contact with James Holmes she was reporting, per her requirement, his danger to the public due to homicidal statements he had made,” the affidavit said.
Whitten added that Fenton said she began to receive threatening text messages from Holmes after he stopped seeing her for counseling, the documents said.
It was not clear if Fenton’s concerns about Holmes reached other university officials. Whitten told investigators she deactivated Holmes’ access card after hearing from Fenton, but the affidavit did not say what other action she took.
Neither Whitten nor Fenton immediately responded to telephone messages Friday.
The university released a statement Friday saying the documents supported its assertions in August that Holmes’ access card was deactivated when he quit a doctoral program but that he was not banned from campus.
The statement did not address whether the university took any steps in response to Fenton’s warning that he was a threat to the public.
It also didn’t directly address the university police officer’s statement that she deactivated Holmes’ access card because of Fenton’s concerns.
Ken McConnellogue, a spokesman for the University of Colorado System and its governing Board of Regents, said Friday the university stands by its statement that Holmes’ card was canceled “as he withdrew from school.”
“We can’t comment on what was said in a police report,” McConnellogue said.
Nicholus Palmer, an attorney for the widow of one of the people slain in the attack, said it’s still unclear how much school officials knew about Holmes before the shootings.
“But from what’s come out, there’s clearly knowledge that this guy was dangerous,” he said. Palmer’s client is suing the university and Fenton.
The indication that a psychiatrist had called Holmes a danger to the public gave momentum to Democratic state lawmakers’ plans to introduce legislation to further restrict mentally ill people from buying guns. State Rep. Beth McCann initially cited the information Thursday as a reason she would introduce a bill as soon as Friday, but quickly backed off and said no date has been set.
The theater massacre already helped inspire a new state ban on large-capacity firearm magazines.
In the days after the attack, university officials released little information about Holmes or how it responded to concerns about him. University officials cited both a gag order in the criminal case and federal privacy laws.
“To the best of our knowledge at this point, we think we did everything that we should have done,” university Chancellor Don Elliman said three days after the attack.
Campus police also said they had never had contact with Holmes. University officials acknowledged a criminal background check had been run on Holmes, but the person who requested the background check has not been publicly identified.
The documents released Thursday were previously sealed, but the new judge overseeing the case ordered them released after requests from news organizations including The Associated Press.
District Judge Carlos Samour took over this week after the previous judge, who had sealed the documents, removed himself. Judge William Sylvester handed off to Samour on Monday, saying the case would take up so much time that he couldn’t carry out his administrative duties as chief judge of a four-county district.
Sylvester entered a plea of not guilty on Holmes’ behalf. Defense lawyers revealed last week that Holmes had offered to plead guilty, but prosecutors rejected the offer and announced Monday they would seek the death penalty.
The newly released records also showed that police collected more than 100 items of evidence from Holmes’ apartment, including 50 cans and bottles of beer, a Batman mask, paper shooting targets and prescription medications to treat anxiety and depression. His attorneys have said he is mentally ill.