Report: James Holmes Sent ‘Chilling’ Notebook To University Psychiatrist Before Attack

As the search continues for what may have motivated James Holmes to shoot up a theater full of people on Friday morning, a new report is out that may provide some clues:

Police and FBI agents were called to the University of Colorado Anschutz medical campus in Aurora on Monday morning after the psychiatrist, who is also a professor at the school, reported receiving a package believed to be from the suspect. Although that package turned out to be from someone else and harmless, a search of the Campus Services’ mailroom turned up another package sent to the psychiatrist with Holmes’ name in the return address, the source told

A second law enforcement source said authorities got a warrant from a county judge and took the package away Monday night. When it was opened, its chilling contents were revealed.

“Inside the package was a notebook full of details about how he was going to kill people,” the source told “There were drawings of what he was going to do in it — drawings and illustrations of the massacre.”

Among the images shown in the spiral-bound notebook’s pages were gun-wielding stick figures blowing away other stick figures.

The source said the package had been in the mailroom since July 12, though another source who confirmed the discovery to could not say if the package arrived prior to Friday’s massacre. It was not clear why it had not been delivered to the psychiatrist. The notebook is now in possession of the FBI, sources told

Both sources said the intended recipient of Holmes’ notebook was a professor who also treated patients at the psychiatry outpatient facility, located in Building 500, where the first suspicious package was delivered. It could not be verified that the psychiatrist had had previous contact with Holmes, who was a dropout from the school’s neuroscience doctoral program and had studied various mental health issues and ailments as part of his curriculum.

This raises many more questions than it answers at the moment. For one thing, it’s unclear if Holmes was being treated by this psychiatrist, if he was someone that he had been working with as part of the neuroscience program, or if it was just someone on the faculty that Holmes had picked randomly. If it’s the first, of course, there many be issues of Doctor-Patient Privilege that would prevent the notebook from ever being used in Court that would have to be answered, but if this was sent in a non-therapeutic manner than it’s just evidence in the case. Additionally, if Holmes was studying mental health issues as part of his Ph.D, program one wonders if he gained access to medication that may have had an impact on him in some way. But, that’s just speculation at this point. At the very least, though, it adds some credence to the theory that this man has some serious mental problems.

Then again, that picture above of him in Court on Monday does that too I would think.

The other question, of course, is whether tragedy could have been averted if someone had seen that package before the early morning hours of July 20th. If it does turn out to be true that the package was sitting in the university mailroom for a week before the attack, then that is going to be one heck of a missed opportunity.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. This article kinda demonstrates the problem with the “lock up all the nuts” side of this issue. While the specific plans in the notebook might be something (although without knowing how “specific” they are, it’s hard to say), to suggest something like “violent” stick figure drawings ought to be a basis for preemptive action seems ridiculously overbroad.

  2. John Peabody says:

    Exactly. How many sprial notebooks in the country have stick figures with guns in them? For goodness’ sake, we have to wait until all the evidence is in and knowledge gained before we can speculate at all. Now someone will blame a faculty member for “not connecting the dots” or “putting 2+2 together”.

  3. @Stormy Dragon: and @John Peabody:

    You both make fair points. We don’t know exactly what might be in these notebooks but the thought that occurs is that it may be the first evidence of Holmes’s mental state prior to the attacks. I wrote several articles in the wake of the Giffords shooting about the extent to which we don’t pay sufficient attention to mental health issues, often with tragic results. It’s possible that’s what happened here too. If it is, I would hope that it leads people to consider whether we’re dealing with this problem correctly.

    And, no, I’m not suggesting locking every one who might seem a little odd. However, maybe if people were more aware of the signs of real mental illness we might be about to both help the people suffering from it and prevent tragedies like the Giffords shooting, and possibly the Aurora shootings, from happening.

  4. @Doug Mataconis:

    We don’t know exactly what might be in these notebooks but the thought that occurs is that it may be the first evidence of Holmes’s mental state prior to the attacks.

    Even if they show Holme’s was unstable prior to the attacks, that doesn’t mean they’re useful as a diagnostic tool. Even if there’s a high probaility that a mass killer will have drawn violent images, that doesn’t mean there’s a high probability that someone who has drawn violent images will become a mass killer. Randall Munroe is not a threat to society.

  5. DRS says:

    We’re about due for another outrage where a high school student writes a violent story for a class exercise and a SWAT teams shows up at the school because he’s seem by some authority figure as a serial killer in embryo. It would be a shame – but typically American – if this incident touches off a round of “better safe than sorry” crackdowns.

  6. Trumwill says:

    We haven’t had any school shootings in a while, it seems. What, if anything, are we doing differently? Or is this one of those things that sort of fizzles out?

  7. @Trumwill:

    There’s one every few months, just none big enough to make national news:

    Most recent was in April when seven were killed a Oikos Univesity in Oakland, CA.

  8. themerricat says:

    There’s an update on this story. The university says they didn’t receive the notebook until the Monday after the attack. (It may have been mailed during the 24 hours prior to the attack.)

    Seems this was a brag book, and not a plea for help.