James Holmes Called Mental-Health Hotline Moments Before Theater Shooting

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James Holmes sits in court for an advisement hearing at the Arapahoe County Justice Center in Centennial, Colorado June 4, 2013.
James Holmes.Photo: Andy Cross/Pool/Reuters/Corbis

After hearing gruesome testimony from the victims of the 2012 theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, on Tuesday jurors heard what shooter James Holmes was thinking as he opened fire at the screening of The Dark Knight Rises, killing 12 people and injuring 70. Holmes was evaluated by psychiatrist Dr. William Reid in 2014 after he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, and now jurors are being shown nearly 22 hours of their videotaped conversations. In the recording, Holmes said he considered seeking help before the attack, but stopped short of confessing his plans. According to the AP, he said of his psychiatrist, Dr. Lynne Fenton, “I kind of regret that she didn’t lock me up so everything could have been avoided.” He also reveals that as he was strapping on body armor and preparing his weapons outside the theater, he called a mental-health hotline, but hung up when he didn’t hear a person pick up. He told Reid it was “[j]ust one last chance to see if I should turn back,” and when the call was disconnected he felt “just that it was really going to happen.”

As the New York Times notes, the recording provides rare insight into the thinking of a mass killer, as gunmen are killed or commit suicide in many mass shootings. Holmes’s voice is flat in the recording, and he describes being “kind of blocked out” and on “autopilot” as he opened fire. He had techno music blasting in his ear buds and said he couldn’t see well because there were scratches on his gas mask. He told Reid his motivation was “increasing my self-worth” through taking lives and said he would have considered killing three people a success. When asked how he rated killing a dozen people, he said “moderate success.”

The case hinges on whether Holmes was legally sane at the time of the shooting. The defense argues that Holmes should be committed to a mental hospital because he suffers from schizophrenia and was unable to tell right from wrong. “When James Holmes stepped into that theater in July 2012, he was insane,” public defender Daniel King said in his opening statement. “His mind had been overcome by a disease of the brain that had plagued him for years.”

However, Reid and another psychiatrist who evaluated Holmes concluded that he was legally sane. “It sounds like someone who is concerned about getting caught or getting stopped and in many ways wants to be caught,” Reid said of Holmes’s call to the mental-health hotline. “There’s a strong implication, I think, that he wants to be stopped from doing something wrong.”