Aurora Theater Shooting

Aurora Theater Shooter's Notebook: "Insights Into the Mind of Madness"


Before he opened fire in a sold-out Aurora movie theater, James Holmes planned the massacre in a notebook. Photocopies of the pages of that notebook were released Wednesday as part of his ongoing trial. On one page, Holmes wrote that a movie theater would be a better venue for mass murder than an airport. Airports, he wrote, are too closely associated with terrorism.

"Terrorism isn't the message," he wrote in cursive letters on graph-type paper. "The message is there is no message. Most fools will misinterpret correlation for causation, namely relationship and work failure as causes. Both were expediting catalysts, not the reason. The causation being my state of mind for the past 15 years."

The entire content of the notebook is on view below, following closer looks at specific pages.

Holmes is accused of murdering twelve people and attempting to murder seventy more. His defense attorneys admit that he opened fire at the Century 16 movie theater on July 20, 2012 during a midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises. But they claim that he can't be held responsible because he was insane. Holmes suffers from schizophrenia, they say, and his illness led him believe that he could increase his self-worth by killing others. He has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity


But prosecutors argue that Holmes was motivated to kill because he was looking for a purpose after his girlfriend broke up with him and he did poorly in the neuroscience graduate program at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. Holmes's trial began on April 27 and is expected to last several months. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

The notebook is a key piece of evidence because it provides a window into what Holmes was thinking shortly before the attack. Although it appears that Holmes dedicated the notebook to his father, mother and sister, he ended up mailing it to CU psychiatrist Dr. Lynne Fenton, whom he'd seen for help. The notebook was retrieved from the CU mail room by police after the shooting.

The notebook seems to be organized into several sections. Holmes titled the first, "The Questions." 

"What is the meaning of life?" he wrote.

"What is the meaning of death?"


In a section titled, "Insights into the Mind of Madness," Holmes questioned "the value of a person" and seemingly tried to figure it out using logic, math and stick figure drawings. He wrote that murder is "widely understood" to be "unjust" but concluded that "mankind hasn't found a better alternative." He spent his entire life seeking an alternative, he wrote, but he couldn't find one.

Holmes also wrote about himself. Under the heading, "Self Diagnosis of Broken Mind," he listed more than a dozen diagnoses, including schizophrenia, psychosis, dysphoric mania and Asperger syndrome. He also listed symptoms and how long he'd had them. They included catatonia ("developed recently"), isolationism, excessive fatigue, "brief periods of invincibility," concern with his hairstyle, teeth, nose, ears, eyes and penis, difficulty concentrating, inability to communicate and an odd sense of self.

Holmes also wrote about his "obsession to kill."


"So anyways, that is my mind," he wrote. "It is broken." He tried to fix it, he wrote, but it didn't work. "Neuroscience seemed like the way to go, but it didn't pan out. In order to rehabilitate the broken mind, my soul must be eviscerated." He wrote that the "last escape" was "mass murder at the movies," and that he must "face death" and "embrace the longstanding hatred of mankind."


Over and over again, across six and a half pages, Holmes wrote a single word: "Why?"

In a section called "Case the Place," Holmes mapped out the crime. 

"Targets random," he wrote. "The cruel twists of fate are unkind to the misfortunate."


He listed several "methods," including bombs, biological warfare and serial murder, but dismissed each of them as being too complicated or resulting in "few kills." He put a check mark next to "mass murder/spree" and explained his reasoning: "Maximum casualties, easily performed w/ firearms, although primitive in nature. No fear of consequences, being caught 99% certain." 

He wrote that the Century 16 theater was the ideal location. "What better place to case than that of an inconspicuous entertainment facility?" he wrote. He drew diagrams of several theaters inside the Century 16 and noted to avoid those with too many exits. He also drew a map of the location of the Century 16 in relation to the police station and estimated the police response time at three minutes.


Another section, called "The Shrinks," includes notes about the doctors he saw, including Fenton and another CU doctor. He wrote that they "immediately prescribed antidepressants" but the drugs had "no effect when needed." He began experiencing mania, he wrote, and his anxiety and fear disappeared. Without that fear, he wrote, his hatred was "unchecked." 

"Starts small," he wrote. "Buy stun gun and folding knife. Research firearms laws and mental illness. Buy handgun. Committed. — shotgun, — AR-15, 2nd handgun.... Practicing shooting at Byers Canyon rifle range. Can't tell the mind rapists plan." Holmes wrote that if the plan was discovered, it would be foiled. "Prevent building false sense of rapport," he wrote. "Speak truthfully and deflect incriminating questions. Oddly, they don't pursue or delve further into harmful omissions."

He ended that section of writing with this: "No consequence, no fear, alone, isolated, no work for distractions, no reason to seek self actualization. Embraced the hatred, a dark knight rises."


One of the last pages of the notebook has two headers. Under "Faith," he wrote, "What kind of GOD commands his people not to murder yet cowers behind free will?" Under "Reason," he wrote, "The reason that life should exist is as arbitrary as the reason why it shouldn't. Life shouldn't exist."

In opening statements, District Attorney George Brauchler emphasized how Holmes used the notebook to plan his attack. But defense attorney Daniel King said the notebook is proof that Holmes was suffering from delusions. "When you read it," he told the jury, "you will see that it makes no sense."

Read all of the photocopied pages below. (The photocopies start on page 25 of the document.)

James Holmes Notebook


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Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar