James Holmes, aka The Llama: Bizarre photo, impressive docs from grad school application

During a Thursday court hearing, attorneys for accused Aurora theater shooter James Holmes said their client is mentally ill.

But a different Holmes emerges in his 2010 application to a neuroscience program -- a brilliant yet quirky individual dubbed "The Llama" because of an odd photo he submitted.

Here's the shot, as seen in a screen capture from the News-Gazette, which obtained the photo and other documents on view below in a Freedom of Information Act submission to the University of Illinois. Holmes applied to be part of a neuroscience program there that was set to begin in the fall of 2011.

The photo James Holmes provided with his University of Illinois application, as seen on The News-Gazette website.
The photo James Holmes provided with his University of Illinois application, as seen on The News-Gazette website.

There's no explanation in the News-Gazette article regarding whether the photo was related to any particular proposal, or if it was simply the equivalent of a non sequitur. But it definitely stuck in the memories of those at the university. An excerpt from the article:

Holmes visited the Urbana campus in March 2011 after he was unable to attend a February 2011 neuroscience open house. According to the UI documents, he met with several researchers while here. While arranging his itinerary, faculty and staff referred to him as "llama," in reference to a photo he submitted that showed him posing, grinning and wearing sunglasses, next to a llama.

Just as fascinating are letters of reference for Holmes, all of which are glowing, as well as his personal resume. The latter lists his skills as:

• Dissection, buffer preparation and straining

• Fluorescence microscopy, dissection microscopy, cell counts

• Proficient using computer software including Microsoft Office

• Adaptable to work environment; problem solver

It's impossible to read this last line without thinking about Holmes's horrific act on July 20 at the Aurora Century 16 -- and the same is true of the personal statement that accompanies his resume. Take his introductory sentence:

Rational people act based on incentives for self-fulfillment, including fulfilling needs of self-development and needs of feeling useful and helpful to others.

Later, he writes that he has "an unquenchable curiosity, a strong desire to know and explore the unknown, and a need to persist against the odds." And here's his penultimate paragraph:

Researching learning and memory interests me because these are the very cognitive processes which enable us to acquire information and retain it. They are at the core of what distinguishes us as people Due to the seemingly infinite vastness of indefinite knowledge we must be selective in our pursuits of knowledge. This is why I have chosen to study the primary source of all things, our own minds.

In the end, the University of Illinois accepted Holmes and offered him a considerable chunk of financial support, including a "starting stipend" that was then "$22,660 per year plus waiver of tuition and most fees." Nonetheless, Holmes ultimately decided against taking part in the program, for reasons he chose not to explain. Had he accepted, he probably would not have been in Colorado on that fateful day last month.

Page down to see the aforementioned resume, references and acceptance letter.  

James Holmes Resume
James Holmes University of Illinois Reference Letters
James Holmes University of Illinois Acceptance Letter

More from our Aurora Theater Shooting archive: "James Holmes in court: Mentally ill or faking it?"

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