Cloaked in as much mystery as the midnight showing of Batman: “Dark Knight Rises,” it appears that James Holmes – the alleged shooter at a Aurora, Colorado, movie theater that left 12 dead and 58 injured – has little to no digital footprint.
It is almost as if James Holmes, 24, formerly of San Diego, never existed.
Since the tragic shooting early Friday, law enforcement authorities, news organizations, citizens throughout the country – myself included – have been trying to learn more about Holmes.
While the majority of Americans share their entire lives online through social media with status updates, posts, photos and location check-ins, not so James Holmes.
While history has proven that crazed lone gunman often telegraph their intentions long before committing acts of violence, not so James Holmes.
Scouring the Internet for “James Holmes” was no easy task. With thousands of Americans sharing this common name, one would have to look long and hard. After all, early news reports indicated that Holmes barely existed in real life let alone in cyberspace.
An experienced investigator and social media expert myself, I found no existence of a Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Classmates, Pinterest, Google Plus, or LiveJournal account for Holmes. I was able to locate an old MySpace account for Holmes where his only post was an initial one when he initiated the account. With the exception of MySpace co-founder Tom Anderson, Holmes had no “real” MySpace friends.
Holmes may be different from other alleged shooters. The man arrested in the Gabrielle Giffords shooting, Jared Loughner, had a MySpace page and a YouTube account. Anders Breivik, accused of killing 77 people in Norway, published a manifesto online. Holmes, in contrast, appears to be what some call “Web dead.”
While it is possible that Holmes simply didn’t have much of an online identity, it seems unlikely that he had no online fingerprints at all. Some experts suggest an online identity under a pseudonym may emerge, or that Holmes, as a tech-savvy graduate student, limited himself university communications that were password-protected.
Most social media services – such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Google Plus – have strict policies requiring users to go by their real name. In any event, false profiles that appear real do exist among the various social media networks. Appearing real and left unflagged by another user or “friend,” an individual such as Holmes could conceivably exist without revealing his true identity.
James Holmes did have an old MySpace account.
There is also the possibility that Holmes worked hard to erase his identity online, but experts think that possibility is unlikely.
“In the age of social media and an instant online presence, it’s extremely rare not to have a digital footprint,” stated Michael Fertik, the CEO and founder of Reputation.com. “My guess is that we don’t know what name or handle he was using or we just haven’t found it yet.”
Fertik added that services such as Reputation.com would help clear some of an Internet history but not all of it.
Complicating matters is the fact that “James Holmes” is an extremely common name. In the hours after he was named as the suspect, people flocked to the Internet in an effort to learn more about him. So much so, that another James Holmes – residing in nearby Littleton – had his Facebook page flooded with comments and friend requests.
“I appreciate the fact that you are trying to become better-informed about the occurrences last night in Aurora, but you have been somewhat mislead, in that I am not the man who did it,” the misidentified James Holmes wrote on his Facebook wall. ”I am not a 24-year-old gun-slinging killer from Aurora, I am a 22-year old book-slinging mass eater from Littleton.” The Facebook Timeline was signed: “Regards, A different guy named James Holmes.”
Over the weekend, another “James Holmes” was misidentified through a Colorado AR-15 Shooters forum. With over 248 posts in a forum named after the very weapon used in the Aurora massacre, this particular “Holmes” – under the user name “IDmaster” – is in the clear. He made several posts following the shooting and arrest of the “real” Holmes.
“Holmes could be using a different name, some variation of his name or another name entirely,” stated SEO expert Martin Chernacov of 4CompuService . “For all we know, he could have a significant online presence that we aren’t aware of yet.”
Common name or not, James Holmes does have a history.
Holmes is originally from the San Diego area having resided with his mother, Arlene, 56, in the 13300 block of Sparren Avenue. He graduated from Westview High School in 2006.
Following high school, Holmes went on to earn a B.S. degree in neuroscience from the University of California, Riverside, where he graduated with honors in 2010. While in college he lived on Pentland Way and Everton Place in Riverside.
Holmes drove a 2000 Hyundai Tiburon with Colorado tag number 119ROC. With the exception of a 2011 traffic citation for speeding, it appears he has never been arrested or accused of criminal activity.
Holmes has never filed for bankruptcy, does not own any real property, does not have any liens or judgments filed against him, and has alternately used the names: “James E. Holmes,” “James C. Holmes,” and “James Holmes.”
Holmes does not appear to be regularly employed, nor does he hold a valid concealed weapons permit, professional license or voter registration card. His cell phone is registered to his mother’s address in San Diego through Verizon Wireless. As of Monday, the service was still connected but went to directly to voicemail.
Holmes was a student at the University of Colorado, but – according to university officials – withdrew last month. He was studying for a PhD in neuroscience. One of his last enrolled classes was called “Biological Basis of Psychiatric and Neurological Disorders.”
According to Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson, Holmes is being held in solitary confinement under suicide watch at the county jail in Centennial, about 13 miles from the movie theater where the tragic shooting occurred.