News for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Psychiatrist Was Alarmed By Aurora Shooting Suspect's Behavior, Media Report

James Holmes, who's accused of killing 12 people and wounding 58.
RJ Sangosti
Getty Images
James Holmes, who's accused of killing 12 people and wounding 58.

A University of Colorado Denver psychiatrist was so worried about James Holmes' behavior that in early June she began the process of getting the school's "threat assessment" team involved in his case, sources with knowledge of the investigation into the movie theater shooting suspect are telling two Denver news outlets.

But the threat assessment team didn't get involved, the stories say. Around the same time as Dr. Lynne Fenton started raising red flags, Holmes began the process of dropping out of the school, Denver's KMGH-TV reports. The station writes that its sources say "when Holmes withdrew, the [threat assessment] team 'had no control over him.' "

The Denver Post, which says it too has been told by a source that Fenton reached out to the school's Behavioral Evaluation and Threat Assessment team, says that "officials could not confirm or deny the report, citing the federal health privacy law and a judge's gag order in the case against Holmes."

Holmes, 24, is charged with 24 counts of first-degree murder and 116 counts of attempted murder for the July 20 shooting rampage at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., during which 12 people were killed and 58 were wounded.

According to KMGH-TV, "sources did not know what Holmes told Fenton that sparked her concern." And two sources tell the station that Holmes would have had to tell the psychiatrist "something specific" before she could have gone to law enforcement officials.

The Post adds that "under a federal rule followed by psychiatrists, Fenton had a duty to take action if Holmes told her of a specific plan to harm others."

The university's threat assessment team is among many created at U.S. universities after the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech, in which a student killed 32 people and then himself. The Post says that:

"Fenton, director of student mental health services on the Anschutz Medical Campus, in 2010 was involved in the creation of the campus BETA team. The team is an ad hoc group of high-level CU academic employees skilled at assessing potential threats on campus. The group does not include CU-Denver police."

Fenton is the psychiatrist to whom Holmes mailed a package to at some point before the movie theater massacre. University officials have said it didn't arrive on campus until after the July 20 attack. The suspect's legal defense team has said it "included communications from Mr. Holmes to Dr. Fenton."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.