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

CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) — James Holmes' mother insisted Wednesday she would "have been crawling on all fours" to reach him had she known he was talking about killing people weeks before he ambushed a crowded Colorado movie theater.

Arlene Holmes said her son's campus psychiatrist never told her James Holmes had homicidal thoughts when she called that June of 2012 and revealed he was quitting therapy and dropping out of school.

"We wouldn't be sitting here if she had told me that!" Holmes' mother said, her sobs rising to anger. "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!"

"He was not a violent person. At least not until the event," Holmes' father, Robert Holmes, said earlier Wednesday in the sentencing phase of James Holmes' trial.

"The event" is a phrase Robert Holmes used several times to refer to his son's attack on the audience inside a darkened Colorado movie theater on July 20, 2012, which killed 12 people, injured 70 others and makes James Holmes eligible for the death penalty.

Arlene Holmes was the defense's last witness in its portion of the sentencing phase. Others who testified included family friends, teachers and former neighbors who said the James Holmes they knew was shy, mild-mannered and polite — not the kind of young man who would gun down innocent strangers.

Closing arguments were scheduled for Thursday. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty; Holmes' attorneys are arguing for life in prison.

James Holmes on Wednesday declined his last opportunity to speak to the jury.

"I choose not to testify," he told the judge.

In her testimony, Arlene Holmes complained that the University of Colorado psychiatrist, Dr. Lynne Fenton, didn't respond to a message seeking more details about their son. They didn't know he was getting therapy and thought perhaps he was depressed or had Asperger's syndrome, Robert Holmes said.

Fenton testified earlier that she called James Holmes' parents, despite her concerns that she was violating her client's privacy, because she was trying to decide whether he posed a danger to himself or others.

A campus security official offered to detain him for an involuntary hospital mental health commitment, but Fenton declined, in part because she said the parents told her he had always been withdrawn.

"Schizophrenia chose him; he didn't choose it, and I still love my son. I still do," Arlene Holmes said, choking up on the stand.

Before she testified, the couple held hands in the courtroom gallery, their fingers intertwined. James Holmes looked up at the screen as his childhood photos were displayed, but he and his mother didn't appear to look at each other.

"People said to me that when your kid turns 18 you're done. And that's not true. We're not done. We are never done, and that's why we're sitting here. We're not done," she said.

James Holmes enrolled in a prestigious neuroscience postgraduate program at the university in 2011. But his parents grew increasingly worried when he came home on his first winter break looking haggard and making odd facial expressions. He shared his fear of failure later that spring, but his parents said they had no idea he was descending into mental illness.

The two were thrilled when he started dating in graduate school, and they knew it wasn't a good sign when that first relationship ended.

"He said he was having trouble in school," Arlene Holmes said, stifling a sob. "I kept telling him, just keep trying, keep trying, but I didn't realize that his loudest cry for help was his silence."

They rarely spoke by phone but communicated even less after he moved to Colorado. James Holmes sent sporadic and terse emails that gave no hints of trouble.

Their concerns eased again when they finally reached him by phone on July 4, 2012, just two weeks before the shooting.

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 made plans to fly to Colorado for an August visit. Instead, Robert Holmes booked a flight to see his son at his first court appearance. Both parents said they were shocked by his state of mind, and later, by the wide-eyed smirk he made in a booking photo at the jail.

Robert Holmes said he realized he had seen that look before — the previous winter, when his son came home stressed from graduate school.

District Attorney George Brauchler noted the bug-eyed mug shot wasn't taken immediately after his arrest, because his hair was shorn and no longer comic-book red. Might he have been posing, trying to appear crazy?

Robert Holmes deflected the suggestion, saying he didn't know.

Death sentences must be unanimous. The jury already has decided Holmes was legally sane at the time of the attack. But his defense is hoping at least one juror will agree that his mental illness reduces his moral culpability so much that he deserves the mercy of a life sentence instead.