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Jul 29, 4:47 PM EDT

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


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CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) -- James Holmes' mother insisted Wednesday that 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 that James Holmes had homicidal thoughts when she called that June and revealed that 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.

"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 on July 20, 2012, which killed 12 people, injured 70 others and makes James Holmes eligible for the death penalty.

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

Fenton testified earlier that she had called James Holmes' parents, overriding 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 had 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mental health commitment, but Fenton declined, in part because she said the parents told her he had always been withdrawn.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 Wednesday, choking up on the stand.

Before she took the stand, 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.

Holmes had enrolled in a prestigious neuroscience postgraduate program at the university in 2011. But his parents had grown 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.

His parents had been thrilled when he started dating in graduate school, and knew it wasn't a good sign when that first relationship ended. "We knew some things weren't going well there," Robert Holmes said.

"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 had rarely spoken by phone, but they communicated even less after he moved to Colorado. 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 a visit in August. Instead, Robert Holmes booked a flight to see his son at his first court appearance, looking sullen and confused. 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 that 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.

After the mother's testimony, defense attorneys were preparing 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. While the jury has already decided that Holmes was legally sane at the time of the attack, 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.

Holmes' father said that he has only seen his son in jail three times because James Holmes typically does not allow visitors. During one of the visits, he "was clearly really messed up," his father said. "But he told us he loved us."

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