Colorado shooter's mom: Silence was his loudest cry for help

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Theater Shooting Gunman's Father Testifies in Sentencing

CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) -- James Holmes came home on winter break from graduate school looking haggard and making odd facial expressions, and later expressed fears that he was failing as a neuroscientist, but his parents said Wednesday that they had no idea he was descending into mental illness.

"He was not a violent person. At least not until the event," Robert Holmes said.

"The event" is a phrase he used several times to refer to his son's attack on the audience inside a darkened Colorado movie theater, which killed 12 people, injured 70 others and makes James Holmes eligible for the death penalty.

Their son did give his parents reasons to worry in the months before the July 2012 attack, they said.

Photos from the Colorado theater shooting trial:

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James Holmes 'Dark Knight' Colo. theater shooting trial, Aurora, Colorado
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Colorado shooter's mom: Silence was his loudest cry for help
James Holmes appears in court for the sentencing phase in his trial, Monday, Aug. 24, 2015, at Arapahoe County District Court in Centennial, Colo. Victims and their families were given the opportunity to speak about the shooting and its effects on their lives. Holmes was convicted Aug. 7 of murdering 12 people when he opened fire on a crowded movie theater in 2012. (RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via AP, Pool)
James Holmes, right, with defense attorney Katherine Spengler, appears in court for the sentencing phase in his trial, Monday, Aug. 24, 2015, at Arapahoe County District Court in Centennial, Colo. Victims and their families were given the opportunity to speak about the shooting and its effects on their lives. Holmes was convicted Aug. 7 of murdering 12 people when he opened fire on a crowded movie theater in 2012. (RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via AP, Pool)
In an image made from video, Colorado theater shooter James Holmes, far left, sits at the defense table during a statement reading by Kathleen Pourciau, far right, the mother of surviving theater shooting victim Bonnie Kate Pourciau-Zoghbi, during the final sentencing phase of the Holmes trial in Centennial, Colo., Monday, Aug. 24, 2015. Holmes was convicted Aug. 7 of murdering 12 people when he opened fire on a crowded movie theater in 2012. (Colorado Judicial Department via AP, Pool)
Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. sits on the bench during the sentencing phase in the trial of James Holmes, at Arapahoe County District Court in Centennial, Colo., Monday, Aug. 24, 2015. Victims and their families were given the opportunity to speak about the shooting and its effects on their lives. Holmes was convicted Aug. 7 of murdering 12 people when he opened fire on a crowded movie theater in 2012. (RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via AP, Pool)
Lasamoa Cross, left, wipes tears from her face as she leaves the Arapahoe County Courthouse with Theresa Hoover, the mother of her boyfriend, Alexander J. Boik, who was killed in the theatre massacre, Friday, Aug. 7, 2015, in Centennial, Colo. James Holmes will be sentenced to life in prison without parole after a jury failed to agree on whether he should get the death penalty. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Terry Sullivan, right, whose son Alex was killed on his birthday in the 2012 Aurora movie theatre attack, embraces Lonnie Phillips, whose daughter Jessica Ghawi was also killed, after a jury failed to agree on whether theater shooter James Holmes should get the death penalty Friday, Aug. 7, 2015, in Centennial, Colo. Holmes will be sentenced to life in prison without parole. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
Tom Sullivan, right, who lost his son in the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., in July 2012, heads into the Arapahoe County Courthouse to hear the verdict reached in the penalty phase of the trial of convicted shooter James Holmes Friday, Aug. 7, 2015, in Centennial, Colo. Jurors have reached a decision on whether to sentence Holmes to life in prison or the death penalty. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Josh Nowlan, who was shot during the massacre at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., in July 2012, is hugged by an unidentified woman as they head into the Arapahoe County Courthouse to hear the verdict reached in the penalty phase of the trial of convicted shooter James Holmes Friday, Aug. 7, 2015, in Centennial, Colo. Jurors have reached a decision on whether to sentence Holmes to life in prison or the death penalty. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Ian Sullivan, who lost his 6-year-old daughter in the massacre at a theater in Aurora, Colo., heads into the Arapahoe County Courthouse to hear the verdict reached in the penalty phase of the trial of convicted shooter James Holmes Friday, Aug. 7, 2015, in Centennial, Colo. Jurors have reached a decision on whether to sentence Holmes to life in prison or the death penalty. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Terry Sullivan, second from left, whose son Alex was killed on his birthday in the 2012 Aurora movie theatre attack, embraces Bryan Beard, Alex's best friend, as Alex's father Tom looks on at right, after a jury failed to agree on whether theater shooter James Holmes should get the death penalty Friday, Aug. 7, 2015, in Centennial, Colo. Holmes will be sentenced to life in prison without parole. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
In this image taken from video, accused Colorado theater shooter James Holmes, on the far left, listens to testimony during his trial, in Centennial, Colo., Thursday, June 25, 2015. Holmes arrived at court minus his normal full beard. (Colorado Judicial Department via AP, Pool)
Defendant James Holmes appears in a video presented to a darkened courtroom in Centennial, Colo., Thursday, June 4, 2015. Holmes, also seated at defense table below screen, spoke in the video to a psychiatrist who evaluated him for the trial on charges that he killed 12 people and wounded 70 others during the midnight premiere of a Batman film. (Colorado Judicial Department via AP, Pool)
In this image taken from video, Colorado movie theater shooter James Holmes, second from left, stands along with defense and prosecution teams, as the jury exits the courtroom for a break in the Holmes trial, in Centennial, Colo., Friday, June 19, 2015. The prosecution, led by District Attorney George Brauchler, second from left, rested its case Friday. (Colorado Judicial Department via AP, Pool)
FILE - This Jan. 15, 2015, file photo shows a view of the jury box, right, inside Courtroom 201, where jury selection in the trial of Aurora movie theater shootings defendant James Holmes was set to begin at the Arapahoe County District Court in Centennial, Colo. Three jurors in the Colorado theater shooting trial were dismissed Tuesday, June 9, 2015, amid concern they had been exposed to media coverage of the case and were discussing it among themselves. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, Pool, File)
File - In this April 27, 2015, file sketch by courtroom artist Jeff Kandyba, prosecutor George Brauchler makes a point during the opening day of the trial for Aurora, Colo., theatre shooting suspect James Holmes, in Centennial, Colo. Holmes is charged with killing 12 people and wounding 70 more in a July 2012 attack on a suburban Denver movie theater. His attorneys argue he suffers from schizophrenia and was in the grips of a psychotic episode when he opened fire on the packed auditorium during a midnight premier of a Batman movie. Experts say prosecutors are using a an approach to craft a memorable narrative that will hold jurors’ attention as the trial continues over more than four months, with scores of witnesses taking the stand.(AP Photo/Jeff Kandyba, file) KCNC-TV, KMGH-TV, KDVR-TV AND KUSA-TV OUT.
In this Monday, April 27, 2015 sketch by courtroom artist Jeff Kandyba, Aurora theater shooting defendant James Holmes, center left, and defense attorney Daniel King sit in court at the Arapahoe County Justice Center on the first day of Holmes' trial, in Centennial, Colo. Holmes acknowledges killing 12 people and wounding 70 more inside a packed movie theater in July 2012, but has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. (AP Photo/Jeff Kandyba)
In this Monday, April 27, 2015, sketch by courtroom artist Jeff Kandyba, Caleb Medley, who was shot in the head during the massacre at the theatre in Aurora, Colo., is shown during the opening day of the trial for Aurora, Colo., theatre shooting suspect James Holmes in Centennial, Colo. The trial will determine if Holmes will be executed, spend his life in prison or be committed to an institution as criminally insane. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
In this Monday, April 27, 2015, sketch by courtroom artist Jeff Kandyba, Judge Carlos A. Samour, Jr., makes a point during the opening day of the trial for Aurora, Colo., theatre shooting suspect James Holmes Monday, April 27, 2015, in Centennial, Colo. The trial will determine if Holmes will be executed, spend his life in prison or be committed to an institution as criminally insane. (AP Photo/Jeff Kandyba)
In this Monday, April 27, 2015 sketch by courtroom artist Jeff Kandyba, public defender Daniel King makes a point during the opening day of the trial for Aurora, Colo., theatre shooting suspect James Holmes Monday, April 27, 2015, in Centennial, Colo. The trial will determine if Holmes will be executed, spend his life in prison or be committed to an institution as criminally insane. (AP Photo/Jeff Kandyba)
In this Monday, April 27, 2015 sketch by courtroom artist Jeff Kandyba, Aurora theater shooting defendant James Holmes is depicted as he sits in court at the Arapahoe County Justice Center on the first day of the Holmes trial, in Centennial, Colo. As the trial begins, the question isn't whether Holmes killed 12 people and wounded 70, but whether he was sane at the time of the killings. (AP Photo/Jeff Kandyba)
Aurora, Colo. Fire Department Lt. Bernd Hoefler, left, talks to a Arapahoe County Sheriff's Deputy after testifying during the third day in the trial of James Holmes, Wednesday, April 29, 2015, in Centennial, Colo. Holmes is charged with multiple counts of murder and attempted murder for a 2012 attack that killed 12 people and injured 70 in a movie theater. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
File - In this April 27, 2015 file photo, Joshua Nowlan, right, one of the victims in the massacre at the Aurora, Colo., theatre, is escorted from court by a law enforcement officer on the opening day of the trial for theatre shooting suspect James Holmes, in Centennial, Colo. The trial will determine if Holmes will be executed, spend his life in prison or be committed to an institution as criminally insane. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, file)
FILE - In this Jan. 7, 2013 file photo, Aurora Police Officer Justin Grizzle leaves court after testifying at a preliminary hearing for Aurora theater shooter James Holmes at the courthouse in Centennial, Colo. In testimony last week, Grizzle told of carrying victims Caleb Medley in the back of his patrol car and begging him not to die as he sped to a hospital. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski, File)
Tom Sullivan, front, who lost his 27-year-old son Alex in the massacre at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., leaves the courthouse after the second day in the death penalty trial of theater shooter James Holmes Tuesday, April 28, 2015, in Centennial, Colo. Witnesses were called to the stand to recall the night of the incident, in which 12 people died and 70 others were injured. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Marcus Weaver, left, a victim of the 2012 shooting at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater, is embraced after Weaver testified during the third day in the trial of James Holmes, Wednesday, April 29, 2015, in Centennial, Colo. Holmes is charged with multiple counts of murder and attempted murder in an attack that killed 12 people and injured 70. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Law enforcement officers keep watch from the roof of the Arapahoe County Justice Center on the second day of the trial of Aurora movie theater massacre defendant James Holmes, in Centennial, Colo., Tuesday, April 28, 2015. The trial will determine if Holmes will be executed, spend his life in prison or be committed to an institution. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
Colorado theater shooter James Holmes, left rear in light-colored shirt, watches during testimony by witness Derick Spruel, upper right, on the second day of his trial in Centennial, Colo., Monday, April 27, 2015. Standing at left is prosecutor Lisa Teesch-Maguire. (Colorado Judicial Department via AP, Pool)
Araphaoe County, colo., Sheriffs Department deputies, at back, escort attendees out of the courthouse at the conclusion of the opening day of the trial for Aurora, Colo., theatre shooting suspect James Holmes Monday, April 27, 2015, in Centennial, Colo. The trial will determine if Holmes will be executed, spend his life in prison or be committed to an institution as criminally insane. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Surrounded by television photographers and reporters, Marcus Weaver, front, a victim of the shooting massacre at an Aurora, Colo., theatre, talks at the conclusion of the opening day of the trial for theatre shooting suspect James Holmes Monday, April 27, 2015, in Centennial, Colo. The trial will determine if Holmes will be executed, spend his life in prison or be committed to an institution as criminally insane. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Television journalists are directed by an official to return to a nearby area reserved for media, outside the Arapahoe County Justice Center, on the first day of the trial of James Holmes, in Centennial, Colo., Monday, April 27, 2015. Holmes acknowledges killing 12 people and wounding 70 more inside a packed movie theater on July 20, 2012, but has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
People enter the Arapahoe County Justice Center on the first day of the trial of defendant James Holmes, in Centennial, Colo., Monday, April 27, 2015. Holmes acknowledges killing 12 people and wounding 70 more inside a packed movie theater on July 20, 2012, but has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
Television satellite trucks and production tents are positioned in the parking lot of the Arapahoe County Justice Center, on the first day of the trial of James Holmes, in Centennial, Colo., Monday, April 27, 2015. Holmes acknowledges killing 12 people and wounding 70 more inside a packed movie theater on July 20, 2012, but has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
Lonnie and Sandy Phillips, whose daughter Jessica Ghawi was killed in the 2012 Aurora, Colo., movie theatre shooting, prepare to enter the Arapahoe County Justice Center, on the first day of the trial of defendant James Holmes, in Centennial, Colo., Monday, April 27, 2015. Holmes acknowledges killing 12 people and wounding 70 more inside the packed theater, but has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
CENTENNIAL, CO - APRIL 27: Family members of Aurora Theater shooting victim Veronica Moser walk into the Arapahoe County Justice Center as opening arguments for the trial of Aurora Theater Shooting defendant James Holmes opened at the courthouse April 27, 2015 in Centennial, Colorado. Holmes faces multiple murder charges stemming from a mass shooting in July 2012 theater shooting that killed 12 people and wounded dozens of others. (Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)
A law enforcement officer adjusts a barrier for media in front of the Arapahoe County District Court, on the first day of the trial of the Aurora movie theater shootings defendant James Holmes, in Centennial, Colo., Monday April 27, 2015. As the trial begins, the question isn't whether Holmes killed 12 people and wounded 70, but whether he was sane at the time of the killings. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
CENTENNIAL, CO - APRIL 27: Members of the media film people walking into the Arapahoe County Justice Center as opening arguments for the trial of Aurora Theater Shooting defendant James Holmes opened at the courthouse April 27, 2015 in Centennial, Colorado. Holmes faces multiple murder charges stemming from a mass shooting in July 2012 theater shooting that killed 12 people and wounded dozens of others. (Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)
Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr., top right, presides over the opening of the trial of Colorado theater shooter James Holmes, far left, in Centennial, Colo., Monday, April 27, 2015. The trial will determine if he'll be executed, spend his life in prison, or be committed to an institution as criminally insane. (Colorado Judicial Department via AP, Pool)
Colorado theater shooter James Holmes, far left, sits at the defense table at the opening of his trial in Centennial, Colo., Monday, April 27, 2015. The trial will determine if he'll be executed, spend his life in prison, or be committed to an institution as criminally insane. (Colorado Judicial Department via AP, Pool)
CENTENNIAL, CO - APRIL 27: Producers at Denver Post TV listen and take notes from the courtroom live feed of proceedings as opening arguments for the trial of Aurora Theater Shooting defendant James Holmes opened at the Arapahoe County Justice Center April 27, 2015 in Centennial, Colorado. Holmes faces multiple murder charges stemming from a mass shooting in July 2012 theater shooting that killed 12 people and wounded dozens of others. Holmes is seated at the very far left of the television screen. (Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)
Surrounded by television photographers and reporters, Marcus Weaver, front, a victim of the shooting massacre at an Aurora, Colo., theatre, talks at the conclusion of the opening day of the trial for theatre shooting suspect James Holmes Monday, April 27, 2015, in Centennial, Colo. The trial will determine if Holmes will be executed, spend his life in prison or be committed to an institution as criminally insane. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Marcus Weaver, center back, who was shot in the massacre at the theatre in Aurora, Colo., is flanked by an unidentified man while leaving the Arapahoe County, Colo., courthouse at the conclusion of the opening day of the trial for theatre shooting suspect James Holmes Monday, April 27, 2015, in Centennial, Colo. The trial will determine if Holmes will be executed, spend his life in prison or be committed to an institution as criminally insane. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Marcus Weaver, front right, who was wounded in the Aurora, Colo., theatre shooting, emerges at the conclusion of the opening day of the trial for theatre shooting suspect James Holmes, Monday, April 27, 2015, in Centennial, Colo. The trial will determine if Holmes will be executed, spend his life in prison or be committed to an institution as criminally insane. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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"He said he was having trouble in school," said his mother, Arlene Holmes.

"I kept telling him, just keep trying, keep trying, but I didn't realize that his loudest cry for help was his silence," she said, stifling a sob.

Defense attorney Rebekka Higgs asked if she wished his campus psychiatrist in Colorado had told them when she called that June that he had been talking about killing people.

"Of course I do! We wouldn't be sitting here if she had told me that!" Holmes' mother said. "I would have been crawling on all fours to get to him. She never said he was thinking of killing people. She didn't tell me. She didn't tell me. She didn't tell me."

Robert Holmes said he recalled that look when his son flashed a wide-eyed smirk in a booking photo at the jail.

District Attorney George Brauchler pointed out while cross-examining Robert Holmes on Wednesday that the bug-eyed mugshot wasn't taken immediately after his arrest, because his hair was no longer comic-book red.

Was he posing, perhaps trying to appear crazy? Robert Holmes deflected the prosecutor's suggestion, saying he knew nothing about how the photograph was taken.

They had rarely spoken by phone, but they communicated even less before his psychiatrist called them and said he was dropping out of school.

"We didn't know he was seeing a psychiatrist," Robert Holmes said. He and his wife thought then their son was depressed or suffering Asperger's syndrome, but he said the doctor would not return their calls seeking more information.

Holmes did send his parents sporadic and terse emails that gave no hints of trouble, and their concerns were eased again when they finally reached him by phone that July 4, just two weeks before the shooting.

They spoke at length, Robert Holmes said. Their son was more talkative than usual and "he didn't give any indication he was homicidal or depressed, at least not to us," Robert Holmes said.

They planned to fly from California for a visit in August. It would be too late. Instead, Robert Holmes booked a flight to see his son at his first court appearance, looking sullen and confused.

Defense attorneys will also call his mother, Arlene Holmes, to the stand as they prepare to rest their portion of the sentencing phase, which has included several dozen family friends, teachers and former neighbors who said the Holmes they knew was shy, mild-mannered and polite- not the kind of young man who would gun down innocent strangers.

Death sentences must be unanimous, and the judge has explained to jurors that their decision will be highly personal. While jurors have already found Holmes was legally sane at the time of the attack, his defense is hoping at least one juror will agree that his mental illness and family ties reduce his moral culpability so much that he deserves the mercy of a life sentence instead.

Jurors have been shown pictures and home-movies from Holmes' unremarkable childhood: playing soccer, graduating high school, smiling at the dinner table, jumping in the surf near their quiet California neighborhood.

The father said his son was an isolated teen, who never brought a girlfriend home. His father rarely, if ever saw him with friends.

His parents were thrilled to learn he had started dating in graduate school, and knew it wasn't a good sign when that first relationship ended, he said.

"We knew some things weren't going well there," Robert Holmes said.

Brauchler sought to focus on what they didn't know or didn't tell jurors: that James Holmes' mother took him to a counselor when he was just 8 because he was throwing things and acting out, and that once he was in college, he lost touch with his younger sister, and never inquired about her well-being.

During a break in testimony Wednesday, Robert Holmes motioned to his son and mouthed that they were wearing the same blue dress shirt. They both smiled before a deputy told the father to stop. Earlier in the trial, Arlene Holmes tried to pass a note to the defense table, but it was intercepted.

The father said that he has only seen his son in jail three times because he typically does not allow visitors. During a rare visit, James Holmes "was clearly really messed up," his father said. "But he told us he loved us."

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