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Movie massacre: Did James Holmes call hospital before shooting?

August 31, 2012|By Jenny Deam
  • Dr. Lynne Fenton, the University of Colorado psychiatrist who was treating suspected theater shooter James Holmes, is seen through a window leading to a district courtroom where a motions hearing was being held.
Dr. Lynne Fenton, the University of Colorado psychiatrist who was treating… (Barry Gutierrez / Associated…)

AURORA, Colo. — An official with University of Colorado Hospital confirmed Friday that someone called the main switchboard on July 20, minutes before a gunman opened fire in a crowded midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises,” killing 12 and wounding 58.

The anonymous caller hung up a few second later without saying a word, said Brad Fixler, marketing director for the hospital. The call could fit into a scenario offered for the first time Thursday by a defense attorney for the man accused of carrying out the massacre, James E. Holmes.

Public Defender Tamara Brady hinted during a court hearing that Holmes may have been trying to reach university psychiatrist Lynne Fenton through the hospital’s main switchboard just before the shooting began. “Did James Holmes call that number nine minutes before the shooting began?” Brady asked. Fenton said she did not know.

PHOTOS: Colorado movie theater shooting

Fixler said after learning about the hearing and anticipating questions, he checked switchboard records and discovered that at “12:31 a.m. July 20, we did receive a phone call that lasted seven seconds to our main switchboard.” He said tht after the operator greeted the caller, there were “a couple seconds of silence and then a hang-up.”

Fixler said he did not know whether the call came from Holmes. In the 30 minutes before and after the shooting, there were no calls asking for Fenton or any other psychiatrist. It was also the only unidentified caller.

Aurora Police have said the first panicked 911 calls about someone shooting inside the Century 16 theater came at 12:39 a.m.

Holmes, 24, is charged with 24 counts of murder — two for each person who died — and 116 counts of attempted murder. He was a neuroscience student at the University of Colorado-Denver but withdrew from the program on June 10 after failing his oral exams three days earlier. He sought counseling from Fenton once, on June 11, and sent her a package on July 19 that is believed to contain an outline of his plan for a massacre.

The defense has said that Holmes is mentally ill and suggested that he may have been reaching out to Fenton for help by sending her the package and making a last-minute phone call before the rampage. The defense has also argued that all communication between Holmes and Fenton — including the package — is protected under doctor-patient privilege.

Thursday’s hearing centered on the question of the doctor-patient relationship. District Judge William Sylvester, though continuing the hearing to Sept. 20,  said he preliminarily sided with the defense that a therapeutic relationship between Holmes and Fenton was still in place when the package was mailed.

The prosecution, which wishes to review the package, has argued that any doctor-patient relationship ended in June and that Holmes had been methodically planning the massacre for months, stockpiling guns and ammunition, telling a classmate he wanted to kill people, and rigging booby-traps his apartment.

On Thursday, the prosecution laid out a chilling step-by-step chain of events minutes before the shooting. Deputy Dist. Atty. Rich Orman said Holmes had bought a ticket to the midnight show and took a seat in Theater 9, but then left, propping open an exit door. He went outside, armed himself and dressed in body armor before reentering the theater about half an hour after the movie began.

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