School mum on shooting suspect

Prestigious neuroscience program cites privacy laws

University of Colorado-Denver Chancellor Don Elliman, left, and Doug Abraham, chief of police for the University of Colorado, offered little new information in a news conference Monday in Aurora. Enlarge photo

Barry Gutierrez/Associated Press

University of Colorado-Denver Chancellor Don Elliman, left, and Doug Abraham, chief of police for the University of Colorado, offered little new information in a news conference Monday in Aurora.

AURORA – University of Colorado officials refused to release any significant details Monday on their yearlong association with James Eagan Holmes, the former neuroscience graduate student accused of killing 12 people at a midnight movie in Aurora.

Law-enforcement authorities have said Holmes was stockpiling weapons even as he was enrolled in a prestigious neuroscience graduate program at the University of Colorado Denver Anschutz Medical Campus.

University officials called a news conference Monday at which they said law-enforcement officials had asked them refrain from talking about the case. University officials also have cited privacy laws in not releasing details of Holmes’ academic record.

“We are not trying to be evasive. We’re trying to be as transparent as we can,” said Lilly Marks, vice president for health affairs.

Yet question after question went unanswered. Little bits of information trickled past the refusals to answer, but for the most part, the news conference was marked by a lack of news.

The school’s silence has heightened the mystery surrounding Holmes, whom friends and acquaintances in his native California described as smart and reserved. After graduating from the University of California-Riverside, Holmes enrolled in the competitive graduate neuroscience program in June 2011. He won a prestigious National Institutes of Health grant that paid a $26,000 stipend in addition to tuition.

Holmes, 24, resigned without explanation from the program June 10, the university said on Sunday.

On Monday, Barry Shur, dean of the university’s graduate school, described the doctoral program as a close-knit group in which professors keep close tabs on their students.

“This is a family. It’s a team-building, family environment,” Shur said. “(Professors) are very much in contact with the students in the program ... especially any student who might have academic or other difficulties,” he said.

If professors have concerns about a student’s well-being, Shur said, “we would expect faculty to reach out to support services.”

That only raised further questions about Holmes’ association with students and faculty at the sprawling campus in Aurora – and why several faculty members contacted by The Associated Press said the university had told them not to comment.

Shur denied that. He said the school had told students and faculty they could refer reporters to the university’s public relations office.

“We told them that they have every right to interact with the media if they choose,” Shur said.

After Friday’s shootings, the university also pulled Web pages related to the neuroscience program from its website. Those pages can now be accessed only with a university password. Jacque Montgomery, a spokeswoman for the medical school, said that was done at the request of faculty and staff members who wanted to protect their privacy after the shootings.

Shur did say that Holmes left blank a line on a form in which he would give a reason for his departure. Department officials encouraged him to fill it out, but he didn’t return the paperwork, Shur said.

Don Elliman, chancellor of CU-Denver, defended the school’s interactions with Holmes.

“To the best of our knowledge at this point, we think we did everything that we should have done,” he said.

A frustrated reporter asked why the school couldn’t provide the level of detail that Virginia Tech University did about a student who shot and killed 32 people and wounded 17 others in 2007.

“Are there any other questions?” Elliman said.