Faculty at the University of Colorado, in the hours after the July shooting rampage at a suburban Denver theater, reacted with a flurry of concerned emails and offered support to students as they realized the suspected gunman may have been one of their own, documents released on Wednesday showed.
James Holmes, a 24-year-old former neuroscience graduate student at the university's Denver campus, is accused of opening fire during a midnight screening of the movie "The Dark Knight Rises," killing 12 people and wounding 58.
The school released roughly 3,800 e-mails on Wednesday pertaining to Holmes following an open records request by several media organizations. One of those e-mails, from a professor of computational bioscience, revealed that Holmes had briefly dated a fellow graduate student.
"He was a grad student here and, it turns out, had a brief romantic relationship with one of the grad students in my program last fall," the professor, Larry Hunter, wrote in a July 20 e-mail. "She, fortunately, it turns out is in India right now. She knows, and is pretty freaked out."
As the case moves toward a trial, prosecutors have depicted Holmes as a young man whose once promising academic career had begun to crumble at the time of the shooting - one of the bloodiest acts of gun violence in the United States in recent years.
He failed oral board exams for graduate school in June and a professor suggested he may not have been a good fit for his competitive doctorate program.
Holmes then began a voluntary withdrawal from the school and amassed an arsenal of weapons as part of "a detailed and complex" plan to commit mass murder, prosecutors charge.
At the university where Holmes had been a student, faculty repeatedly implored students who knew Holmes not to divulge any information to the media in the aftermath of the shooting.
"It appears that the shooter at the Batman premier was one of our students," Cammie Kennedy, the program administrator for the neuroscience program, wrote in an e-mail to students just hours after the shooting.
"Students, I am here in my office if you need me," she added, with a smiley face and her cellphone number.
Holmes has yet to enter a plea in the case, and prosecutors have not indicated whether they will seek the death penalty.
Holmes' lawyers, who analysts have suggested may be laying the groundwork for an insanity defense, have said Holmes suffers from mental illness and sought to get help before the shooting. (Reporting by Keith Coffman; Writing by Mary Slosson; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Mohammad Zargham)