Yesterday, in her courtroom coverage of the latest James Holmes hearing, Melanie Asmar quoted prosecutors as saying the accused Aurora theater shooter had been banned from the University of Colorado after he'd made threats -- and so did pretty much every other media outlet on the planet. Now, however, CU is denying that's the case. Why the disconnect?
Asmar opened her piece about the hearing with this paragraph:
Suspected Aurora theater shooter James Holmes was banned from the University of Colorado in June after he made threats that were reported to the campus police, prosecutors said in court today. That month, he also failed his oral board exams, was told by professors that he should perhaps find a different path and began to withdraw from the school's neuroscience program.
She elaborated on this information with an allusion to prosecutor Karen Pearson:
Pearson said Holmes wasn't doing well in school and suggested that he wasn't living up to his own academic expectations. She said he failed his oral exams on June 7, which she said was "very much relevant to what happened afterward" -- including that Holmes bought guns and ammunition and rigged his apartment with explosives. Pearson said CU shut off Holmes's ID card after he made threats, but she didn't go into detail.
Yesterday evening, however, University of Colorado Denver spokeswoman Jacque Montgomery said in an Associated Press piece that Holmes hadn't actually been banned from campus for making threats. Rather, his access to portions of the campus not open to the general public had been nixed because he was in the process of withdrawing from the neuroscience program.
This quick about-face has led to plenty of confusion in the press, as well as some awkward juxtapositions. Take this image from the CBS website, which features a link to a story about Holmes being banned from campus above an article saying that's not the case:
Reached this morning, Montgomery confirms that "Mr. Holmes was never banned from the Anschutz Medical Campus."
She adds, "I wasn't in court, so we can't comment at all about what was said there. But what we are saying is that Mr. Holmes was never banned from campus."
Regarding the access issue, she says, "In general, when a student quits or withdraws, or when an employee quits, key-card access is terminated. But that doesn't mean that person can't be on campus. Key-card entrance gives you access after hours or on weekends to different areas of campus, some of which are considered higher security, like laboratories. And in this case, the student withdrew, and his key-card access was turned off."
When asked if students who've withdrawn can still visit the public areas of the campus, Montgomery replies, "Absolutely."
At this point, Montgomery can't elaborate on the threat Pearson mentioned, or pretty much anything else. She cites a portion of the gag order put in place by Judge William Sylvester that allows the university to "correct wrong information...but as far as specifics of the case, the court order don't allow us to report on it."
Is the requirement to remain mute until someone -- including representatives of the state -- says something inaccurate frustrating for CU? Montgomery answers the question this way: "The university remains committed to doing all we can to support the legal process and authorities to ensure that nothing interferes with their investigation and justice prevails at the end of the day."
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She adds, "A situation came up, and we were happy to address it."
More from our Aurora Theater Shooting archive: "James Holmes banned from CU for threats month before theater shooting."