James Holmes: Read timeline of his actions before and after Aurora theater shooting

Keep Westword Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Denver and help keep the future of Westword free.

Through witness testimony, prosecutors this week laid out a timeline of the actions accused Aurora theater shooter James Holmes took in the months before the July 20 attack. The earliest date mentioned was April 19, when he set up a Match.com profile. The last was July 19, when Holmes allegedly took photos of himself with shock-orange hair and posing with weapons. In between, he amassed a small arsenal. Continue for a full timeline.

We've compiled this timeline based on testimony from witnesses at a preliminary hearing in Holmes's case, which took place January 7, 8 and 9. Most of the witnesses were police officers who testified about the evidence they'd accumulated against Holmes.

June 2011: Holmes, who grew up in California, enrolls at the University of Colorado Denver as a neuroscience graduate student.

April 19, 2012: Holmes creates a Match.com account whose headline eventually reads, "Will you visit me in prison?" and features photos of him with orange hair.

May 10: Holmes buys two six-ounce tear gas grenades from an online retailer, according to ATF special agent Steven Beggs, who chronicled Holmes's weapons purchases.

May 22: Holmes buys a Glock .40 caliber pistol from a Gander Mountain store.

May 28: Holmes buys a Remington 870 tactical shotgun, as well as ammunition for both the shotgun and the handgun, from a Bass Pro Shop.

June 6: Holmes buys two pairs of handcuffs, a military first-aid kit and road stars meant to puncture tires from an online retailer.

June 7: Holmes fails his oral exams at the University of Colorado. Prosecutor Karen Pearson has said that his poor performance on those key exams is "very much relevant to what happened afterward."

Continue to read more of the James Holmes timeline before and after the July 20 Aurora theater shooting. June 7: Holmes buys a Smith and Wesson semi-automatic rifle, bullets, gun slings and a gun case from a Gander Mountain store.

June 13: Holmes buys a 100-round drum magazine for the rifle from an online retailer, along with ammunition for all three guns, hearing protection and a green laser sight.

June 17: Holmes buys tactical targets and target stands from an online retailer.

June 19: Holmes buys bullets, a red laser sight and a pistol holster from an online retailer.

June 28: Holmes buys 2,050 handgun bullets, 2,250 rifle bullets and 25 shotgun rounds from an online retailer, in addition to a ballistic helmet from a second online retailer.

June 29, 4:20 p.m.: Holmes allegedly takes photos showing the inside of the Aurora Century 16 theater with his iPhone. One of the photos is a close-up of a door latch, purportedly to show how it works. These photos and others were found on his phone after he was arrested.

July 1: Holmes buys snap caps (plastic ammunition used for practice) and a rifle scope from a Gander Mountain store. In a surveillance video, Beggs said Holmes can be seen purchasing the items. "His hair was bright orange," Beggs said.

July 2: Holmes buys ballistic body armor to protect his legs, torso, arms, neck and groin from two separate online retailers.

July 3: Holmes buys a launch control system of the type used for model rockets, fuses and other items from an online retailer.

Continue to read more of the James Holmes timeline before and after the July 20 Aurora theater shooting. July 5: Holmes creates an account on AdultFriendFinder.com, a more racy online dating site, whose headline also reads, "Will you visit me in prison?"

July 5, 4:12 p.m.: Holmes allegedly takes a photo of himself posing in what a witness described as "a majority" of his ballistic gear. He sports shock-orange hair and is wearing an assault rifle slung on his body. He's looking down at the camera and scowling.

July 5, 11:30 p.m.: Holmes allegedly takes photos of the outside of the Century 16 theater at night. The photos feature the emergency exits and floodlights above them.

July 6: Holmes buys a second Glock.40 caliber pistol, more targets, more bullets, smokeless gun powder, gun oil, gun cleaner and a cloth from a Bass Pro Shop.

July 7, 9 p.m.: Holmes uses Fandango.com to buy a ticket to the July 20 midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises at the Century 16 theater in Aurora for theater eight.

July 11, 12:28 a.m.: Holmes allegedly takes more photos of the purple emergency exit doors at the Century 16 theater.

July 14: Holmes buys various chemicals, a petri dish and a mortar and pestle from a Denver science equipment retailer.

July 16, 8:26 p.m.: Holmes allegedly takes a photo of the counter top in his kitchen. It shows a microwave, a jar with amber liquid in it and a bowl of smokeless powder.

July 16, 8:27 p.m.: Holmes allegedly takes another photo, this time of a blond wood kitchen-type table in his living room. On top of it is a potted plant, a roll of aquamarine duct tape, wires, paint canisters and bottles. On the floor are nine homemade bombs made out of fireworks shells and connected with a yellow wire.

Continue to read more of the James Holmes timeline before and after the July 20 Aurora theater shooting. July 18: Holmes logs on to Match.com and AdultFriendFinder.com for the last time.

July 19, 5:17 p.m.: Holmes allegedly photographs his ballistic gear arrayed on his bed. On top of a red sheet, it's possible to see a tactical vest on which are strapped several rifle and handgun magazines, a gas mask, a gas canister, a helmet and three guns -- a rifle, a shotgun and a handgun -- among other gear.

July 19, 6:22 p.m.: Holmes allegedly takes a photo of himself wearing a black skull cap with two red curls of hair sticking out above each ear, almost like horns. He's wearing black contact lenses that make his irises appear entirely dark and he's sticking his tongue out.

July 19, 6:25 p.m.: Holmes allegedly takes another photo of himself, this time with what a witness described as "a large toothy grin." He's holding the muzzle end of a handgun near his chin, at an angle pointing toward the ceiling. He looks gleeful.

July 19, 6:31 p.m.: Holmes allegedly continues his photo session, this time holding one of the homemade bombs found in his apartment. A unlit fuse sticks out the top of the bomb. He poses with his lips in a tight "O," as if he's blowing out the fuse.

Continue to read more of the James Holmes timeline before and after the July 20 Aurora theater shooting. July 20, approximately midnight: Holmes can be seen on a surveillance video entering the Century 16 theater. He's wearing a black skull cap, dark pants and a light-colored button-down shirt. He holds the door open for two people who enter behind him.

July 20, 12:03 a.m.: Holmes attempts to scan his phone to retrieve his movie ticket. He ends up scanning it twice more, presumably because he's having technical difficulties. After successfully retrieving his ticket and giving it to the ticket-taker, Holmes walks to the concession stand and, as one witness said, "stands there for several minutes." He doesn't buy anything. He then walks off-camera toward theater nine.

July 20, before the movie starts at 12:20 a.m.: A witness sitting in the second row tells police that he observed a man in a black bandana or cap who was sitting in the front row take a phone call, walk toward the emergency exit and prop it open with his foot.

July 20, approximately 12:38 a.m.: Holmes is accused of entering the theater through the emergency exit, which was propped open with a plastic tablecloth holder. Wearing enough black ballistic gear to protect his entire body and carrying three guns, he's accused of throwing a canister of tear gas into the audience. Soon afterward, prosecutors say he opened fire, spraying the audience with bullets from a shotgun, a rifle and a handgun. Moviegoers began screaming and scattering but not before some of them were hit. Twelve people were shot and killed and seventy others were wounded from a combination of bullets, tear gas and injuries sustained as they tried to flee.

July 20, a few minutes later: Holmes is arrested outside the theater. Police find him standing by his white two-door car, which is parked as close as possible to the emergency exit door for theater nine. They first mistake him for a SWAT officer but soon realize he's not because he's "just standing there," Aurora officer Jason Oviatt testified.

Holmes is wearing a gas mask. Figuring that the only person who would have known to wear one would be the suspect, Oviatt aims his gun at Holmes as another officer shouts for Holmes to put his hands up. Holmes does so "immediately," Oviatt said.

Holmes doesn't resist as the officers order him to lie face-down and handcuff him. "It was just complete compliance," Oviatt testified, adding that Holmes didn't even display the "normal tension" of a person being arrested. He seemed "disoriented and out of it," Oviatt said, as if he were "very detached from it all."

The officers eventually strip him in order to search him for weapons. When asked whether he has any, police testified that Holmes said he had explosives in his apartment. Asked if they were set to go off, Holmes reportedly answered, "If you trip them."

Continue to read more of the James Holmes timeline before and after the July 20 Aurora theater shooting. July 20, after the shooting: Holmes is interviewed by police. He's wearing a torn T-shirt and boxer shorts. Police have put paper bags over his hands to preserve gunshot residue. An officer assigned to watch him reports to Aurora police detective Craig Appel that Holmes begins "moving his hands in a talking-puppet motion."

After Holmes drinks a cup of water, the officer reports that he starts playing with the cup, "trying to tumble it," Appel said. Holmes also reportedly pulls a staple out of the table and tries to stick it in an electrical outlet. He is not tested for drugs or alcohol because police don't suspect he's under the influence, Appel said.

Holmes tells the police about the elaborate system of explosives he's set up in his apartment. FBI agent Garrett Gumbinner testified that Holmes "said he had rigged his apartment to explode or catch fire to send resources to his apartment rather than to the theater." He'd programmed his computer to play 25 minutes of silence followed by loud music, "hoping that would cause a disturbance" that would prompt someone to call the police.

Among the explosives found in his apartment are a thermos of glycerin perched over a frying pan full of chemicals that would cause heat and flames if mixed with the glycerin and jars filled with homemade napalm and bullets, topped with smokeless powder and a homemade version of a powder that burns so hot it can't be extinguished with water. Police also found several homemade bombs made out of nested fireworks shells filled with smokeless powder, gasoline and oil. The carpet was also soaked with gas and oil.

Gumbinner said Holmes described three so-called initiating systems, or systems that would trigger the explosives to go off. One was a pyrotechnic firing box usually used for fireworks. Holmes placed the remote control to the box outside his apartment near the dumpster next to a remote-control car and on top of a boombox in a trash bag. Holmes told police that the boombox was set to play forty minutes of silence followed by loud music. Presumably, the idea was that the music would attract someone, who would then try to play with the car and unwittingly set off the explosives in Holmes' apartment.

Continue to read more of the James Holmes timeline before and after the July 20 Aurora theater shooting. July 23: Holmes appears in court for the first time, wearing a maroon colored jumpsuit and a dazed look on his face. He's advised of his rights and told he'll be held without bond. Media from all over the world reports on Holmes's orange hair and glassy-eyed expression. At some points during the hearing, Holmes appears to nod off.

July 30: Holmes is back in court, this time to be officially charged with murder. Prosecutors announce that he faces 142 counts: 24 counts of first-degree murder, 116 counts of attempt to commit first-degree murder, one count of possession of explosive devices and one sentence enhancer for a crime of violence.

October: Prosecutors add 24 more attempted murder charges related to twelve more victims, bringing the total number of counts against him to 166.

January 7, 8 and 9, 2013: Holmes is in court for a three-day preliminary hearing in which prosecutors lay out the evidence against him in the hope of proving probable cause. Read our coverage of day one, day two and day three.

January 11: Holmes is due back in court at 9 a.m. for what Judge William Sylvester called a status hearing/arraignment, which means Holmes may enter a plea. His public defenders have made many references to his "mental illness" over the past months, and he's widely expected to plead not guilty by reason of insanity.

Westword plans to attend that hearing. We'll post the outcome on Latest Word.

More from our Aurora Theater Shooting archive: "7/20 Committee offers mental health resources for those traumatized by James Holmes hearing."

Follow me on Twitter @MelanieAsmar or e-mail me at melanie.asmar@westword.com

Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.