Mr. Holmes went on to study neuroscience at the University of California, Riverside, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in science in 2010. If he was outstanding in any way, it was for academics: He won merit scholarships to attend UC Riverside, where he was enrolled in one of its most challenging programs. He took courses in biology, psychology and chemistry, according to school officials, students and the school’s list of requirements.
“Academically he was at the top of the top,” said Timothy White, chancellor of UC Riverside. “He really distinguished himself from an academic point of view during his four years with us, graduating with the highest honors.” The school, about 50 miles east of Los Angeles, has more than 18,000 undergraduates.
As an undergraduate, Mr. Holmes’s course work and after-hours work in the chemistry lab would have focused on biological chemistry and pharmaceuticals, not on chemicals that might be used to make gases or explosives, former UC Riverside neuroscience students said.
Rather, Mr. Holmes’s studies focused on how the brain works chemically and psychologically, and the effect that has on human behavior. Mr. Holmes was studying “chemistry and physics, but also brain anatomy and physiology, how we all behave…. It is ironic, and sad,” Mr. White said.
Mr. Holmes found a crew of studious students on his floor that appeared a good fit for him his freshman year, hallmates said. He became a fixture socially among the science majors and others. Often, he joined them for dinner and games of Guitar Hero or movie nights to watch Disney films, several recalled.
Still, Mr. Holmes remained a mystery to some. His freshman roommate said the two rarely spoke beyond small talk about “The Simpsons” or “Family Guy.” Mr. Holmes often spent his lunch hour in the suite’s common lounge watching a show called “How It’s Made” on the Discovery Channel, which is about factory products.
Mr. Holmes was disciplined and kept his room tidy. He spent much of his time in the room with his books open or staring into a computer screen. Each night he played an hour or two of online computer games after the studying was done before going to bed early, his roommate said.
“He was very responsible,” he said. “He had his quirks, which were that he didn’t talk a lot.”
Later in college, Mr. Holmes was a quiet presence in upper-division neuroscience courses and labs. These small classes and labs encouraged students to form tight friendships, but Mr. Holmes remained outside those inner circles for the most part, one person who took several upper-level classes with him said.
“He wasn’t the type to have outbursts or anything,” this person said. “He was just a really nice guy. He was intelligent. He just wasn’t very sociable.”"