In the summer of 2008, when James Holmes was 20, he was known as a quiet counselor at Camp Max Straus in Los Angeles County, liked by his campers.
As details have emerged about the background of the now 24-year-old suspected shooter at the midnight massacre at an Aurora, Colo. showing of a Batman sequel on July 20, an unwanted media spotlight has fallen on the 110 acre camp in the Verdugo Mountains run by Jewish Big Brothers and sisters of Los Angeles.
“I’m looking at us all over TMZ,” said one former staff member contacted by The Jewish Journal. “There’s my picture, it’s crazy.”
In an exclusive interview with The Jewish Journal, the staff member, who asked not to be named, confirmed what many friends, colleagues and former neighbors of Holmes have said: He was decent and unremarkable.
“He was a quiet guy,” said the former staffer, who was in close contact with Holmes. “I never would have suspected a thing. He just kept to himself.”
At Camp Max Straus, Holmes was in charge of a group of 10 boys, ages 7 to 10.
“He never got in trouble,” recalled the staffer, who added that there were never any complaints about him from his campers. While Camp Max Straus activities do not include shooting sports, Holmes did engage in archery with his campers.
The former staffer said Holmes did not seem to hang out with other counselors his age, however.
“It’s not that they didn’t like him,” the staffer said. “It’s just that he wasn’t very social.”
Holmes, the staffer said, was not Jewish. During the summer, Camp Max Straus serves a primarily non-Jewish population of low-income and disadvantaged youths through Jewish Big Brothers/Big Sisters.
During the holiday season, the organiztion runs a Chanuka Camp.
Since the connection to the camp was revealed on Saturday, July 21, staffers and volunteers have been fielding numerous calls about their now-infamous former counselor, and the group has been working to avoid any implication that the long-running camp is not a safe and secure place. It has had a long track record of improving children’s lives.
The former staffer stressed to The Jewish Journal that nothing in Holmes recent past, even his most recent days, tipped off authorities to imminent danger.
“We had a great summer in 2008,” the staffer told The Jewish Journal, “and we don’t want this backlash to spoil it. It’s unfortunate that they’re screaming about the camp all over the news.”