AURORA, Colo. – Officials from The University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus on Monday answered a range of questions related to the Aurora movie theater shooting.
Officials emphasized that the university is honoring the request of the local police and FBI to limit information to preserve the integrity of the case. Speaking to the media were Chancellor Don Elliman, Executive Vice Chancellor Lilly Marks, University Police Chief Doug Abraham and Barry Shur, dean of the Graduate School.
University officials acknowledged that two buildings on the Anschutz Medical Campus were evacuated Monday morning to investigate suspicious packages. In Building 500 a package was found early in the morning slipped under the door of a faculty member. Later in the morning, a suspicious package arrived via central mail at the Campus Services Building. The buildings were locked down for several hours while authorities investigated. In both cases, the packages were deemed not a threat to safety on the campus.
“At this time we’re focusing our attention on the students, staff and faculty who have been impacted by this tragedy in many, many ways and offering a variety of services to support them,” Marks said. “This includes counseling for those who may need it and other support as needed.”
University officials conducted a separate university community forum Monday, allowing members of both the downtown campus and the Anschutz Medical Campus to ask questions.
Former student James Holmes has been arrested in the theater shooting.
Media questions ranged from aspects in Holmes’s background to protocols of the neuroscience graduate program to how chemicals are handled in campus labs.
In answer to a question about whether students in the neuroscience graduate program receive background checks, Shur said, “All of our students undergo required background checks as part of their application. No program that I’m familiar with in the United States requires a psychiatric evaluation for their students.”
Shur explained that the neuroscience graduate program admits five or six students each year, and there are currently about 35 pre-doctoral students in the program. After his first year in the program, Holmes took preliminary exams June 7. On June 10, he initiated the paperwork to voluntarily withdraw from the program. Shortly after, Holmes no longer had access to the campus buildings. Shur had not received the paperwork for final signing by the time of the theater shooting.
Shur said it’s highly unusual for a student in the neuroscience graduate program to withdraw. “Students in this situation are very carefully monitored and coached and counseled,” he said. “This does not happen without faculty oversight and, in fact, if any program would be put on a pedestal for that, it would be this one.”
As one of the nation’s most competitive neuroscience graduate programs the university receives National Institutes of Health training grants for the students, Shur said. Holmes was a grant recipient, receiving $21,000 of the standard $26,000 annual stipend for living expenses from the NIH and the remaining $5,000 from the university. In addition, the 12-month grant covers tuition and fees.
“This is a family,” Shur said, “… and the neuroscience program is one of the best examples of that. They are very much in contact with the students in the programs, especially those that might have, not necessarily the suspect, academic or any other kind of difficulties. Those are the ones the program leadership would focus their energies on.”
When asked if the university had done everything it could in terms of caring for a possibly troubled student, Elliman said, “As with any incident like this, when you sit back and review it after it’s over … you try to make sure you’ve done everything that you can. To the best of our knowledge, at this point, we did everything we think we should have done.”
Marks said all labs in which the suspect worked have been carefully checked and found to have no dangerous chemicals missing. She said the university is starting an inventory of all campus labs to assure no substances are missing.
The campus receives thousands of packages a day, officials said. “If they come from the U.S. Postal Service or certified mail and require a signature we do log that in and have a record of that,” Marks said. “If they come from Fed Ex, for example, those can be delivered directly to the lab or office — they don’t come through the central mail facility and there is no central log in. I would presume that Fed Ex or whatever entity does require a signature and they would have records of that.”
Elliman said university policies on matters related to package delivery, access to labs and other security issues will be revisited. “I think we’ll look at any relevant policy and determine if we think it needs to be changed.”
To start the media briefing, Elliman said, “Our hearts go out to the families and friends who lost loved ones and to those who were injured. We wish them nothing but the best and we wish the injured strong recoveries.”