ISAIAH BRANCH-BOYLE/Durango Herald
ISAIAH BRANCH-BOYLE/Durango Herald
When Durango resident James Calvin Holmes III woke early last Friday to a text message from his friend, Shavontae Hunter, he had no idea the barrage of the social-media madness that awaited.
“Are you OK?” it read.
Another friend wrote on his Facebook page: “Please tell me you’re in San Diego.”
Holmes was, in fact, in Southern California visiting family and friends, but that didn’t stop hundreds of Twitter users from labeling him a killer.
“I must have gotten 1,000 messages. It was like hate mail,” he said Monday at Radio Shack on Main Avenue, where he works.
A different James Holmes – James Eagan Holmes – is in police custody in connection with the shooting of 12 people during a midnight premiere showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora last Friday.
Physical characteristics aside – the Holmes in Durango is black – the two men share an uncanny amount in common. The suspected shooter is 24 years old; the Holmes here just turned 25 a few days ago. The suspected shooter grew up near San Diego and now lives in Colorado. The local Holmes grew up near San Diego and now lives in Colorado.
The former Fort Lewis College student said his Twitter feed was overwhelmed with hateful comments during the weekend. One even accused him of changing his profile photo to a black man to deflect suspicion.
Others came to his defense.
“Why is this guy getting harassed? It wasn’t him,” Holmes said one person tweeted.
Another Twitter user decided to play detective and claimed the local Holmes posted “evidence” of his nefarious plot weeks in advance.
A fan of the ESPN2 show “First Take,” Holmes tweeted “Who was Batman tonite?” to host Skip Bayless on June 21 after LeBron James turned in a dominating NBA Finals performance. Bayless and co-host Stephen A. Smith had compared Miami Heat stars Dwayne Wade and James to Batman and Robin, respectively.
In another bizarre coincidence, the local Holmes was in the vicinity of the Century 16 movie theater just days before the massacre occurred. While en route to California, his flight out of Denver was postponed. He spent the night at a friend’s house in Aurora.
“We drove right past the theater,” he said.
Holmes is hopeful the Twitter maelstrom will simmer down as details about the man arrested for the assault emerge. But he said the incident has opened his eyes to the Internet’s power to distort reality.
“(Online) everybody is interacting with everybody, with complete strangers. The truth gets tangled up,” he said. “I guess social media can be used for good or bad.”
Twitter users aren’t the only ones guilty of jumping to conclusions in the aftermath of Friday’s shooting spree.
News outlets have come under criticism for speculating on James Eagan Holmes’ political views based on nothing but rumor and hearsay.
“On Good Morning America” Friday, ABC News investigative correspondent Brian Ross suggested that the gunman may have connections to the Colorado Tea Party based on the affiliations of a different Holmes. ABC has since apologized and issued a retraction after a severe backlash.
Also Friday, the conservative website Breitbart.com insinuated that the shooter could be a Democrat, using La Plata County voter registration lists as “proof.”
The website had not corrected the mistake as of Monday afternoon.
Local news stations in Tampa, Fla., were fooled as well. James Holmes Jr. had to fend off reporters demanding to hear how his son could commit such an appalling crime.
An Internet search revealed more than 2,900 people named James Holmes living in the United States.
“I’m trying not to let (the Twitter reactions) get me down. Peoples’ emotions are running high, which is understandable,” the local Holmes said. “My prayers go out to the victims’ families.”