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Holmes’ Behavior Raised Flags At Alabama School

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James Holmes (credit: Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office)

James Holmes (credit: Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office)

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DENVER (AP) — Professors at an Alabama university described James Holmes as an excellent candidate for their neuroscience program in February 2011, but rejected him anyway after his behavior raised concerns.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham on Thursday released the application of the man accused of the Aurora movie theater shooting rampage, including interview forms from his visit to the school.

Professors described him as a top-notch student and shy. One professor doubted whether he wanted Holmes in his lab, noting that “he may be extremely smart, but difficult to engage.”

Another wrote: “His personality may not be as engaging as some applicants, but he is going to be a leader.”

A message left for Scott Wilson at the school’s neurobiology program was not immediately returned.

The application was obtained from the school. According to admissions experts, federal privacy laws do not cover graduate student applications.

Holmes later enrolled as a first-year Ph.D. student in a neuroscience program at the University of Colorado Denver. He withdrew about six weeks before the July 20 attack in Aurora.

Prosecutors say the 24-year-old opened fire during a midnight showing of the latest Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises,” killing 12 people and injuring 58 others.

Holmes also raised concerns at CU where university psychiatrist Lynne Fenton said she contacted police in June after a meeting with Holmes.

Defense attorneys claim Holmes is mentally ill and sought help from Fenton, while prosecutors paint a picture of a man angry at the failure of a once-promising academic career.

Prosecutors say Holmes had failed a key oral exam in June at about the same time he was stockpiling guns, ammunition and body armor.

The University of Iowa also rejected Holmes’ application.

According to university records released last week, he was interviewed, but neuroscience program director Daniel Tranel wrote a strongly worded email urging the admissions committee not to accept Holmes.

“James Holmes: Do NOT offer admission under any circumstances,” wrote Tranel, a professor of neurology.

Psychology professor Mark Blumberg followed up with a separate email to say he agreed. Blumberg recommended admission for the other two.

Neither official elaborated on their reasoning in the emails.

University of Iowa President Sally Mason said Thursday she had “no idea” whether Holmes raised red flags or why he was rejected.

But she said the case illustrates the critical significance that interviews play in evaluating prospective graduate students, and how candidates who appear strong on paper might not measure up in person.

“Getting to know someone, hearing them, meeting them face-to-face can tell you a lot about an individual,” she said.

Michael Reilly, executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, said graduate applicants are not covered by federal student privacy laws and there are no reporting requirements if somebody raises a concern.

Reilly said the graduate candidate interviews are more detailed because the programs involve working with a research professor in a close lab setting for a number of years.

“They want to read a little more closely the responses of applicants that this is somebody who is not just bright, but sane and focused,” Reilly said.

He said screening applicants who are intelligent but socially awkward could be a topic for a study session at the organization’s convention. Members of the organization include most of the major not-for-profit and public universities that include the University of Iowa, University of Colorado and the University of Alabama.

- By P. SOLOMON BANDA, Associated Press … Associated Press writer Ryan Foley contributed to this report from Iowa City, Iowa.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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