By Nicholas Riccardi and P. Solomon Banda/The Associated Press
CENTENNIAL, Colo. — A former doctoral student accused of going on a deadly shooting rampage at a showing of the new Batman movie appeared in court for the first time on Monday, but he didn’t seem to be there at all.
James Holmes shuffled into court with his hands cuffed and his brown hair dyed orange-red — the first look the world got of the 24-year-old since the Friday shooting that left 12 people dead and 58 others injured at a packed midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises.”
Unshaven and appearing dazed, Holmes sat virtually motionless in a maroon jailhouse jumpsuit, his eyes drooping as the judge advised him of the severity of the case. At one point, Holmes simply closed his eyes.
He didn’t say a word. His attorneys did all the talking when the judge asked if he understood his rights.
Prosecutors said later they didn’t know if Holmes was on medication. Authorities have said he is being held in isolation at the jail. Holmes’ demeanor appeared to anger the relatives of some of the victims who attended the hearing. One woman’s eyes welled up with tears.
The hearing was also the first confirmation that Holmes’ hair was colored. Soon after the shooting, there were reports of his hair being red and that he called himself “The Joker” when he was arrested. “The Joker” is one of Batman’s enemies in the fictional Gotham and has brightly colored hair.
It was not immediately known if he told officers that he was Batman’s nemesis, however.
Investigators also found a Batman mask inside Holmes’ apartment after they finished clearing the home of booby traps, a law enforcement official close to the investigation said Sunday on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media.
Holmes, whom police say was clad in body armor and armed with an assault rifle, a shotgun and handguns during the attack, was arrested shortly after in the parking lot. He is refusing to cooperate, authorities said. They said it could take months to learn what prompted the attack.
Holmes was brought over from the Arapahoe County detention facility and walked into the courtroom with attorneys and others. He sat down in a jury box, seated next to one of his attorneys. His entrance was barely noticeable but relatives of shooting victims leaned forward in their seats to catch their first glimpse of him.
Some stared at him the entire hearing, including Tom Teves, whose son, Alex, was killed in the shooting. Two women held hands tightly, one shaking her head.
After the hearing, prosecutor Carol Chambers said that “at this point, everyone is interested in a fair trial with a just outcome for everybody involved.” Chambers said earlier her office is considering pursuing the death penalty against Holmes. She said a decision will be made in consultation with victims’ families.
David Sanchez, who waited outside the courthouse during Holmes’ hearing, said his pregnant daughter escaped uninjured but her husband was shot in the head and was in critical condition.
“When it’s your own daughter and she escaped death by mere seconds, I want to say it makes you angry,” Sanchez said. He said his daughter, 21-year-old Katie Medely, and her husband, Caleb, 23, had been waiting for a year to watch the movie.
Asked what punishment Holmes should get if convicted, Sanchez said, “I think death is.”
His daughter was scheduled to delivering her baby on Monday.
Holmes is expected to be formally charged next Monday. Holmes is being held on suspicion of first-degree murder, and he could also face additional counts of aggravated assault and weapons violations. Holmes has been assigned a public defender.
Security at the hearing was tight. Uniformed sheriff’s deputies were stationed outside, and deputies were positioned on the roofs of both court buildings at the Arapahoe County Justice Center.
Police have said Holmes began buying guns at Denver-area stores nearly two months before Friday’s shooting and that he received at least 50 packages in four months at his home and at school.
Holmes’ apartment was filled with trip wires, explosive devices and unknown liquids, requiring police, FBI officials and bomb squad technicians to evacuate surrounding buildings while spending most of Saturday disabling the booby traps.
Officials at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus were looking into whether Holmes used his position in a graduate program to collect hazardous materials, but that disclosure was one of the few it has made three days after the massacre. It remained unclear whether Holmes’ professors and other students at his 35-student Ph.D. program noticed anything unusual about his behavior.
His reasons for quitting the program in June also remained a mystery. Holmes recently took an intense oral exam that marks the end of the first year. University officials would not say if he passed, citing privacy concerns.
Amid the continuing investigation of Holmes and his background, Sunday was a day for healing and remembrance in Aurora, with the community holding a prayer vigil and President Barack Obama arriving to visit with families of the victims.
Obama said he told the families that “all of America and much of the world is thinking about them.” He met with them at the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora, which treated 23 of the people injured in the mass shooting; 10 remain there, seven hurt critically.
Congregations across Colorado prayed for the shooting victims and their relatives. Elderly churchgoers at an aging Presbyterian church within walking distance near Holmes’ apartment joined in prayer, though none had ever met him.
Several thousand gathered for healing at the vigil Sunday night.
“You’re not alone, and you will get through it,” said the Rev. Kenneth Berve, pastor at Grant Avenue United Methodist Church and a witness to Friday’s horrors. “We can’t let fear and anger take control of us.”
Meanwhile, the owner of a gun range told the AP that Holmes applied to join the club last month but never became a member because of his behavior and a “bizarre” message on his voicemail.
Holmes emailed an application to join the Lead Valley Range in Byers on June 25 in which he said he was not a user of illegal drugs or a convicted felon, said owner Glenn Rotkovich. When Rotkovich called to invite him to a mandatory orientation the following week, Rotkovich said he heard a message on Holmes’ voicemail that was “bizarre — guttural, freakish at best.”
Rotkovich left two other messages but eventually told his staff to watch out for Holmes at the July 1 orientation and not to accept him into the club, Rotkovich said.
The pastor for the suspect’s family recalled a shy boy who was driven to succeed academically.
“He wasn’t an extrovert at all. If there was any conversation, it would be because I initiated it, not because he did,” said Jerald Borgie, senior pastor of Penasquitos Lutheran Church. Borgie said he never saw the suspect mingle with others his age at church. He last spoke with Holmes about six years ago.
“He had some goals. He wanted to succeed, he wanted to go out, and he wanted to be the best,” Borgie said. “He took pride in his academic abilities. A good student. He didn’t brag about it.”
During the attack early Friday, Holmes allegedly set off gas canisters and used a semiautomatic rifle, a shotgun and a pistol to open fire on theater-goers, Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates said.
Holmes had bought the weapons at local gun stores in the past two months. He recently bought 6,000 rounds of ammunition over the Internet, the chief said.
The gunman’s semiautomatic assault rifle jammed during the attack, forcing him to switch to another gun with less firepower, a federal law enforcement official told The Associated Press. That malfunction and weapons switch might have saved some lives.
Oates said a 100-round ammunition drum was found in the theater, but he said he didn’t know whether it jammed or emptied.
The shooting was the worst in the U.S. since the Nov. 5, 2009, attack at Fort Hood, Texas. An Army psychiatrist was charged with killing 13 soldiers and civilians and wounding more than two dozen others.
Associated Press writers Kristen Wyatt and Thomas Peipert in Aurora; Dan Elliott, Gillian Flaccus and Colleen Slevin in Denver; and Alicia A. Caldwell, Eileen Sullivan and Julie Pace in Washington contributed to this report.