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Daniel King, public defender of suspected Aurora movie theater gunman James Holmes, looks out the broken window of Holmes' apartment, Wednesday, July 25, 2012, in Aurora, Colo.Ted S. Warren/The Associated Press

Chillingly, a notebook detailing the Batman movie massacre, replete with stick figures being gunned down, was sent to a Colorado psychiatrist and – perhaps – sat for a week unopened before the horrific mass murder.

The notebook wasn't found until Monday, three days after the midnight massacre by a heavily armed gunman who shot more than 70 people – killing 12, including a six-year-old girl, and wounding 58. If it had been promptly delivered and its grim details understood, one of America's worst mass killings might have been averted.

James Holmes, 24, an honours student who was in the process of dropping out from the university's elite doctoral program in neuroscience, reportedly mailed the notebook to a professor, who is also a psychiatrist who treated patients at the medical school's outpatient clinic. Mr. Holmes, seeming dazed and disinterested, appeared briefly in court on Monday, his orange-dyed hair wildly askew. When arrested, in full body armour outside the movie theatre in Aurora, Colo., he reporteldy told police: "I am the Joker," an apparent reference to the supervillain with the sadistic sense of humour who is Batman's archnemesis.

Fox News first reported the existence of the notebook and quoted an anonymous source as saying it had been in the university mail room since July 12, more than a week before the shootings.

According to Fox, the psychiatrist notified Federal Bureau of Investigation agents on Monday to tell them he suspected he had received a package from the alleged murderer. Although that package proved unconnected with Mr. Holmes, a subsequent search of the mail room found another package addressed to the psychiatrist.

It remains unclear whether the psychiatrist had previously treated Mr. Holmes.

The notebook with its details "may have been a cry for infamy – that he wanted desperately for people to see him as important," said Jack Levin, co-director of the Brudnick Center for the Study of Violence and Conflict at Northeastern University who has written extensively about mass murderers and serial killers. "In some other cases of mass murderers, you find drawings and manifestos, it is not that unusual," he said in an interview.

Mailing a package of detailed notes before committing mass murder has recent precedent in the United States.

Seung-Hui Cho, the student who killed 32 people and wounded another 17 in a massacre at Virginia Tech in April, 2007, mailed a self-promotional package of writings and video recordings about himself to NBC News on the morning of the killings. But Mr. Cho's package had no chance of being received in time to alert authorities and perhaps prevent the killings.

If investigators in the Aurora killings establish the notebook, with its apparently detailed descriptions of the intended massacre, was sitting undelivered in a University of Colorado mail room before the crime, it will prompt a second probe into whether the killings could have been prevented.

In that scenario, it will also raise questions as to whether Mr. Holmes was hoping to be stopped.

The mass killing, minutes into a special midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises at a mall in Aurora, has prompted a surge of gun sales in Colorado. Previous mass killings – like the one at Virginia Tech and the January, 2011, shooting in Arizona of then-congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in which six people were killed and 13 others injured – have also triggered sharp spikes in gun sales as people fear tougher gun-control laws may be result. But neither President Barack Obama nor his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, has voiced any interest in banning assault weapons or otherwise taking on the powerful National Rifle Association. quoted an unnamed law-enforcement source as saying: "Inside the package was a notebook full of details about how he was going to kill people. There were drawings of what he was going to do in it – drawings and illustrations of the massacre."

Mr. Holmes is expected to be formally charged on July 30. The judge has ruled that no cameras will be allowed in the courtroom, unlike the first brief appearance.