Suspect in Aurora, Colo. shooting rejected from U. Iowa before accepted to U. Illinois

When a seemingly highly qualified applicant visited the University of Illinois’ neuroscience program, he was warmly received.

“Those who met you … during your interview visit felt that your personal and professional qualities are truly outstanding,” said neuroscience admissions chair J. Lee Beverly in the applicant’s acceptance letter, dated March 21, 2011.

But that was months after the same applicant had visited the University of Iowa, where the message came through loud and clear:

“James Holmes: Do NOT offer admission under any circumstances.”


(Click to enlarge)

That recommendation was made by Daniel Tranel, Iowa neuroscience Ph.D. program director, about the suspect arrested after a shooting that left 12 dead and 58 wounded in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater July 20.

James Holmes was accepted into Illinois’ selective neuroscience program after visiting the campus in March 2011. He was also offered a tuition waiver and a $22,660-per-year stipend, according to documents provided by the University under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.


(Click to enlarge)

Despite impressing several faculty members here, Holmes left quite a different impression on officials at the University of Iowa when he met with Tranel and others the weekend of Jan. 30, 2011.

In documents released by Iowa on Thursday, Tranel warned the admissions committee not to accept Holmes. Iowa psychology professor Mark Blumberg also interviewed Holmes and agreed with Tranel in an email sent two days later.

Neither he nor Blumberg provided any further explanation.

In contrast, neuroscience faculty members at Illinois such as Beverly thought Holmes was an “excellent match” for the program, which accepted less than 10 percent of about 150 applicants that year, said Sam Beshers, neuroscience program coordinator.

Holmes declined the acceptance a day later in an email sent to Beshers.

“Thank you for offering me a position in the Neuroscience Program at UIUC but unfortunately I will not be accepting your offer of admission,” he wrote.

“My apologies for any inconvenience this may have caused. Best wishes in your candidate search.”

Beshers couldn’t comment on the difference in admission procedures between Illinois and Iowa but said Holmes was “obviously intelligent and had a lot of potential”.

In Holmes’ application to Iowa, he spoke about his interest in cognitive neuroscience. He specifically referenced his work as a camp counselor, which included mentoring children with mental disorders.

“These kids were heavily medicated but this did not solve their problems, only create new ones,” he wrote in an application letter. “The medication changed them from highly energetic creative kids to lax beings who slept through the activities. I wanted to help them but couldn’t.”

He outlined the same goals in his application to Illinois.

“These fascinations likely stemmed from my interest in puzzles and paradoxes as an adolescent and continued through my curiosity in academic research,” Holmes wrote in his Illinois application.

On his Iowa application, Holmes listed that he also applied to Texas A&M, Kansas University, the University of Michigan, the University of Alabama and the University of Colorado, leaving off Illinois.

He later chose to attend the University of Colorado’s neuroscience program but was in the process of withdrawing when the shooting occurred.

Presiding Judge William Sylvester has sealed Holmes’ academic records, according to a statement released by the school.

_Emily Thorton and Maggie Huynh contributed to this report._

Holmes’ resume:


(Click to enlarge)