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James E Holmes during his appearance at Arapahoe County District Court.—Reuters Photo
James E Holmes during his appearance at Arapahoe County District Court.—Reuters Photo

WASHINGTON: “Words are always inadequate in these kinds of situations,” US President Barack Obama told the grieving relatives and friends of the 12 victims shot dead by a 24-year old PhD student.

Although police told a court in Colorado on Monday that the killing “was a deliberative process by a very intelligent man who wanted to do this,” most Americans are still struggling to understand why it happened.

Police also said that the largest mass shooting in US history — 12 killed, 50 wounded — could have been much worse, had the alleged assailant's gun not jammed. But why, is what most Americans want to know.

Even religious leaders are unable to provide an answer.

“It's not possible to understand how God could allow such a tragedy to happen,” Pastor Jeff Noble of Aurora's New Life Community Church told mourners.

Thousands have been gathering every day at the site of the shooting in Aurora, Colorado, since July 20 when James E Holmes entered a cinema complex in Aurora, wearing a Batman mask, and started shooting randomly at the audience.

“The question we all probably struggle with: Why did God allow this?

My response is: I don’t know,” said the pastor.

President Obama, instead of trying to say why it happened, offered comfort to the families of the victims and to the city of Aurora.

"It reminds you that even in the darkest of days, life continues and people are strong," he said. "Out of this darkness a brighter day is going to come."

The US media are focusing on the suspect’s life, trying to find clues that could help them understand why this happened. So far they have not been very successful.

The information unearthed by the media show that James Holmes, born on Dec 13, 1987, is the son of mathematician and a registered nurse.

His father, a senior scientist, has degrees from Stanford, UCLA and Berkeley.

James Holmes was raised in San Diego, California, in a middle class neighbourhood. He graduated from Westview High School, San Diego, in 2006, and was always a good student. He played soccer and ran cross-country, so he was not a loner.

James obtained an undergraduate degree with the highest of honour in neuroscience from the University of California, Riverside in 2010. He was a member of several honour societies, including Phi Beta Kappa and Golden Key. The university’s chancellor described him as “at the top of the top.”

In 2008, he worked as a counsellor at a Jewish summer camp, helping children. He enrolled as a PhD student in neuroscience at the University of Colorado Medical Campus in Aurora on a federal grant.

Initial media reports said that in 2012, his academic performance declined but the university is now refusing to confirm it. The only official statement that came from the university was they were not planning to expel him.

This obviously is not the profile of a mass murderer. So various media outlets are now trying to dig deeper.

On Monday, The Los Angeles Times reported that the earlier media image of James Holmes as “an incredibly smart, hopelessly shy young man who barely spoke — a loner isolated in a brilliant mind,” was perhaps incorrect.

Witnesses told the newspaper that James had circles of friends with whom he joked around and socialised.

A senior student describes him as “stubborn” but others disagreed, saying that they did not “recall pronounced stubbornness at all.”

One student who was in his lab group in 2008 said James was “really into superheroes and Batman was one of them.”

This caused some to speculate that he was probably aping the Batman or one of the villains Batman tackles in his movies, when he went berserk. But others rejected this, saying this type of behaviour could be expected from a high school student, not from someone doing a PhD in neuroscience.

One solid explanation of why this happened came from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg who blamed America’s gun laws for the tragedy, pointing out that inadequate legal restrictions allow people like James to obtain guns and kill innocent people.

He reminded American voters that President Obama and his Republican rival Mitt Romney had both pledged earlier to tighten gun controls and they should now persuade them to fulfil their pledges.

But Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, believes it’s unlikely to happen because of the influence the gun organisations have.

“They pour a lot of money in” elections campaigns “and some people lost office after they voted for [gun control] legislation before,” she told Fox News.

And while Americans struggle to understand why this tragedy struck an otherwise peaceful community, Mayor Steve Hogan of Aurora pledged to “reclaim our city in the name of goodness, kindness and compassion.”

But one of the suspect’s neighbours does not believe it was James’ kindness that saved him.

“I am counting my lucky stars,” he said.