Aurora theater attack: James Holmes's aborted trip to a shooting range
Weeks before the Aurora theater shootings, something just didn't sit right with Glenn Rotkovich. It wasn't so much the weird outgoing message on the answering machine that troubled the gun range owner -- although he most certainly found that odd -- as the fact that the man now known as alleged mass murderer James Holmes didn't return Rotkovich's phone calls. Any of them. That was the instant red flag. Everybody calls back, usually within hours. Not Holmes, though. Not at all.
After surreptitiously amassing his arsenal, Holmes was looking for a place to take target practice, and his search lead him to Rotkovich's Lead Valley Range in Byers, an isolated, rural shooting range about an hour or so from Denver. According to Rotkovich, there was nothing unusual about Holmes's application. "The form came in. I got the form. The form was normal," recalls Rotkovich, sitting in the range's office trailer. "He e-mailed me a form for membership. There was nothing special. There was nothing different about it. He answered the questions right. Everything was filled out the way it should've been. There was no flags there.
The entrance to the Lead Valley Range in Byers.
"The problem came when -- our normal process is, is when we get a form like that, I end up calling them and saying everything's okay, "Rotkovich goes on. "I call the person and say, 'We're going to have orientation on this date at this time. Can you make that? Do you want to come out and finish up your membership?' That's the process. Nobody can use the range until they've gone through orientation. And the orientation is nothing more than: Here's the facilities, here's what we do, here's what goes on. Here's what you can't do. Here's the rules. This is the way it is, so that they know where they stand with what we're doing."
The application form James Holmes submitted electronically to Lead Valley Range.
Rotkovich says that when he called the number on Holmes's application -- a telephone number that matches the one listed on the killer's public records -- he was greeted by a bizarre, since-scrubbed voicemail greeting that was hard to understand ("it was a very guttural, bass sounding, rambling, incoherent"). He didn't pay much mind to that, he says, since we all have friends or people we call who have bizarre messages. What gave him pause was the notable lack of a response.
Page down to continue reading about James Holmes and the Byers gun range. "I called again the next day -- because that's what I do -- and the message was still there," he remembers. "I didn't like it anymore the second day than I did the first, and on the third day, it was pretty much the same feeling. But at this point in time, things changed, because -- I don't know if you're a shooter or in the industry at all, but there's a shortage of ranges in the metro area. So people are looking for a place to go. Normally, when I call somebody and say, 'Hey,' you know, 'we're going to have orientation. Call me. I need to talk to you about it,' they call back within hours -- very latest, 90 percent of them call me the same day."
Lead Valley Range owner Glenn Rotkovich.
"So when he doesn't call me the same day, and he doesn't call me the second day, and now I'm on to the third day, it's like, 'What the hell's going on? Forget it. You call me' is my attitude. Not that I said that. I just thought, 'You call me if you want in, because I'm not going to do this. The more I thought about it, the more I didn't like it. So when we were getting around to orientation, I told the staff, 'If this guy shows up -- he's not supposed to come; he's not scheduled -- but if he shows up, you put him aside. He gets nothing done until I see him and meet him. Because I want to know what's going on.'"
He never showed up, and Rotkovich didn't think about it again after that. It wasn't until word of the shooting hit the news a few weeks later, and when Holmes's name was published, that he and his staff began to connect the dots. The news stirred one of Rotkovich's staffers in particular, who called him and said, "Wasn't that guy you told us to flag and hold on to? Wasn't that James Holmes?" When he confirmed, she informed him that the killer's name was James Holmes. With this in mind, Rotkovich pulled the form from his e-mail and compared the information on the application with the news reports. Everything matched up, right down to the emergency contact, whom Holmes had listed as someone named Arelene from San Diego -- his mother.
"So it's like, too many coincidences," says Rotkovitch. "This is the shooter. This is who the guy is. I've got to call the police and tell them about it, because they're going to find me anyway. The more I thought about it, they're going to find me anyway. So I've got to call them. I'm obviously on his computer, because he e-mailed me, and I've got three messages on his answering machine. They're going to come up sooner or later, wondering why I called him."
Rotkovich first reached out to police by calling the number the news flashed encouraging those who might have any information about Holmes to phone. He tried calling three or four times, he says, and received a constant busy signal. So he went about his work and tried again a little later on Friday night and finally got through. Rotkovich says the woman he spoke with was sort of ambivalent about what he had to say at first. But when he started providing the information on the application, which evidently hadn't been published yet, she immediately took note. She passed it on to her superiors, who followed up with him about 10 a.m. on Saturday, and he subsequently forwarded the e-mails.
About the gun-firing practice session that wasn't.
More from our Aurora Theater Shooting archive: "James Holmes's red-hair photo, dating site claims: Legit or Internet hoaxes?"