The university psychiatrist who was examining accused movie-theater shooter James Holmes found his behavior so erratic that she brought it to the attention of a group that measures the possibility of violent campus threats.
Dr. Lynne Fenton, who treated Holmes earlier this year, notified her colleagues at the University of Colorado’s Behavioral Evaluation and Threat Assessment Team (BETA) that Holmes could constitute a threat to others, Denver’s KMGH-TV reported on Thursday. Citing unnamed sources, the station reported that Fenton brought up concerns about Holmes to several members of the BETA team, who are experts on threatening behavior. But police in Aurora, Colo., where Holmes lived, were never contacted by the University of Colorado.
Fenton, who is a principal member of the BETA team, discussed Holmes’ behavior in separate conversations with other team members in early June, six weeks before the shooting. Holmes had been attending the University of Colorado School of Medicine, where Fenton worked, to pursue a Ph.D., but he unexpectedly dropped out of the university’s neuroscience program on June 10 and never returned to campus. Three days prior, he did poorly on an oral presentation, the same day he purchased an AR-15 rifle. After he withdrew from the school, officials said, the BETA team had no power over him.
Under federal law, Fenton would have had a duty to act if there were a specific threat that Holmes made, but one of the sources told KMGH that no such statement ever came up. The psychiatrist’s connection with the former student came up when defense lawyers revealed in a court motion that she was treating him. A news report says that Holmes sent Fenton a package several days before the attack containing a notebook allegedly detailing his plans. The University of Colorado said the package arrived July 23 and was turned over to authorities immediately, the Denver Post reported.
School chancellor Don Elliman defended the university at a press conference last week: “To the best of our knowledge at this point, we did everything that we think we should have done,” he said. But threat-assessment expert Barry Spodak told ABC News that the warning signs were there. “You know, I think that’s the signal that you should intensify your efforts, not walk away,” Spodak said. “Under those circumstances, most well-trained threat-assessment teams would have gone into action.”
Holmes, 24, who had no criminal record, was charged last Friday with a total 142 counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder for the shooting deaths of 12 people and wounding 58 others during a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises at an Aurora theater on July 20. In his nearby apartment, police found more than 30 grenades, 10 gal. of gasoline and improvised explosive devices, all rigged to kill the next person who entered Holmes’ apartment.
Holmes’ next scheduled hearing is on Nov. 30, and he has entered no plea. If found fit to stand trial and convicted, he could face the death penalty.