Classmates say Batman killer was a 'nice guy'
James Holmes described as a shy man who 'rooted for the villains'
IT was a meticulously planned operation by a fresh-faced young man with only a speeding ticket to his name.
The rampage at a Colorado cinema was the culmination of James Holmes's transformation from reserved neuroscience doctoral student working on mental disorders to methodical mass murderer.
As America reeled from one of the worst mass shooting in its history, details emerged about the comfortable suburban upbringing of the 24 year-old accused of killing 12 and injuring 58 just after midnight on Friday.
Former neighbours and classmates -- friends are notable by their absence -- described an introverted but extremely smart student.
None had thought he could turn into a mass killer.
When Holmes moved to the University of Colorado's medical school in Aurora last May, after graduating with honours from the University of California, he was following in his father's footsteps.
Robert Holmes, who flew to Denver from the family home in San Diego, California, on Friday, has a doctorate in statistics, a master's degree in biostatistics and a bachelor's degree in mathematics from three prestigious universities.
Mr Holmes raised James with his wife, Arlene, a nurse, in a pleasant neighbourhood of San Diego, where residents expressed disbelief that Jimmy, as they knew him, could have committed such an atrocity.
James Holmes had always excelled in his studies but, earlier this year that exemplary record took a dramatic dive. Indeed, he was struggling so badly that last month he told the college that he was going to drop out.
He was already amassing an arsenal of weapons and ammunition. He bought two Glock pistols, a semi-automatic rifle and a shotgun during the last two months from gun stores, and 6,000 rounds from websites. All were purchased legally.
In early July, he ordered the bullet-proof clothing, throat and groin protectors and gas mask that he wore on his rampage.
Ready to strike, on Thursday Holmes drove the five miles from his home next to the faculty building, to the multi-screen Century 16 cinema in a shopping centre.
He bought a ticket for the midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, the Batman film, and went into the auditorium with other cinema-goers. He slipped into the car park though an emergency exit, leaving the door ajar.
Holmes changed into his body armour and went back into the cinema to launch his rampage just as a cacophonous shooting scene erupted on the screen.
When he surrendered to police, he told them he was The Joker, the fictional villain in Batman books and films.
He told officers that he had booby-trapped his apartment, but officials said that he had not, otherwise, been co-operating with their investigation.
They believe that Holmes acted alone. When reporters broke the news of her son's involvement to Mrs Holmes on Friday morning, she said: "You've got the right person" -- words that some believe may indicate that she was not surprised to hear that he had done something so shocking.
"Our hearts go out to those who were involved in this tragedy and to the families and friends of those involved," Holmes's parents said in a statement.
He graduated from Westview High School in 2006. Yearbook pictures show him in the football and cross-country teams.
A member of the football team said: "Jimmy was kind to those who knew him. It was hard to get to know him, but once you did, you realised he was funny and accepting of everyone's faults.
"He loved video games. But I would say he did not like the shooting games. He preferred ones like Guitar Hero.
"The last time I talked to Jimmy, he didn't really seem to be in a good place. But that was years ago. But nothing out of the ordinary, just -- you know -- the twenties' trials and tribulations.
"What he did was horrible, but I will always know him as Jimmy Holmes, not this person he is being portrayed as."
Christine Mai, 17, who lives next door to the Holmes family, said she never saw Jimmy act violently, nor did she see him socialising with friends or bringing girlfriends home.
After school, Holmes studied neuroscience at the University of California.
"Academically, he was the top of the top," Timothy White, the chancellor, said on Friday.
But he could not find a job after graduating, working at a McDonalds before returning to his studies in Colorado in May 2011.
"I felt bad for him because he studied so hard," said Miss Mai. "My brother said he looked kind of down, he seemed depressed."
According to the website TMZ, a red-haired 24-year-old called "James Holmes" from Aurora created a recent entry on a sex website, with the message: "Will you visit me in prison?"
Kaitlyn Fonzi, a biology student who lived below Holmes in his apartment block, said she was only on nodding terms with him and that he never spoke to neighbours.
For Miss Fonzi, there was a particularly chilling twist to last week's horrors. For at midnight on Friday, music started to blare from the apartment upstairs. She and her boyfriend called the non-emergency police line to report the noise nuisance.
When there was no response, she went upstairs to knock on the door to ask for the music to be turned off.
"It was particularly strange as we had never heard a squeak from that apartment before," she said.
"I knocked on the door, but there was no answer. Then, I noticed that it was not properly shut and I almost opened it, but something made me stop at the last moment. I thank God I did."
Behind the door was the trip wire that was intended to blow up the apartment.
It was at that hour that Holmes was conducting his rampage. For one former San Diego classmate that brought back a memory that seems particularly unnerving.
"He was a nice guy, who very much wanted to be liked and wanted," the young woman, who did not want to be named, told NBC News.
"He did not have many friends for someone who wanted to be liked. He loved all the villains in superhero stuff, which I did point out as odd. Most people enjoy the hero."