Report: Aurora Shooter May Have Had "Dysphoric Mania"

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Aug. 27 2012 8:40 AM

"He Floated Apart, Locked Inside a Private World They Could Neither Share Nor Penetrate"

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(Composite image) James Holmes makes his first court appearance at the Arapahoe County Courthouse, Colo., on July 23.

Pool photo by RJ Sangosti/Getty Images.

The New York Times has a nearly 4,000-word profile on James Holmes this morning that's well worth your time.

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

A handful of reporters interviewed more than a dozen people who knew or had contact with Holmes—from fellow grad students to local food-truck vendors—to piece together the best look yet at the man widely believed to have opened fire in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater earlier this summer, and killed a dozen and injuring scores more.

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Here's a snippet:

Those who worked side by side with him saw an amiable if intensely shy student with a quick smile and a laconic air, whose quirky sense of humor surfaced in goofy jokes—"Take that to the bank," he said while giving a presentation about an enzyme known as A.T.M.—and wry one-liners. There was no question that he was intelligent. "James is really smart," one graduate student whispered to another after a first-semester class. Yet he floated apart, locked inside a private world they could neither share nor penetrate. ...
Sometime in the spring, he stopped smiling and no longer made jokes during class presentations, his behavior shifting, though the meaning of the changes remained unclear. Packages began arriving at his apartment and at the school, containing thousands of rounds of ammunition bought online, the police say.

In a text to a fellow grad student a few weeks before the shooting, Holmes appeared to suggest that he was suffering from a form of bipolar disorder known as dysphoric mania, which the paper explains combines "the frenetic energy of mania with the agitation, dark thoughts and in some cases paranoid delusions of major depression." More from the Times:

Dr. Victor Reus, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, said dysphoric mania is not uncommon in patients with bipolar disorder, a vast majority of whom never turn to violence. But in severe cases, he said, patients can become highly agitated and caught up in paranoid delusions, reading meaning into trivial things, "something said on TV, something a passer-by might say, a bird flying by." Dr. Reus declined to speculate about Mr. Holmes, whom he has never met, and he emphasized that he knew nothing about the psychiatric treatment Mr. Holmes might have received.
But he said that in some cases psychiatrists, unaware of the risks, prescribe antidepressants for patients with dysphoric mania—drugs that can make the condition worse.

It is not clear if dysphoric mania was a formal diagnosis Holmes received from a doctor or one he came to himself. Regardless, it wasn't the only thing that hinted that trouble was coming.

Prosecutors say that Holmes had told a fellow grad student back in March that he wanted to kill people "when his life was over." Two months later, he reportedly showed another student a Glock semiautomatic pistol, although he said then that it was only "for protection." And at some point before the shooting, his psychiatrist grew concerned enough to warn at least one member of the university's threat assessment team that Holmes might be dangerous.

You can read all 3,800-odd words of the detail-rich profile here, including more on Holmes' hobbies ("role-playing video games like Diablo III and World of Warcraft"), typical breakfast ("He favored a Mexican food truck in the mornings, buying three chicken and beef tacos but refusing sauce"), and class work.

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