"He was an easygoing kid" who got off to a rough start but by the end of the school year finished 15th in his class of close to 200 students and had a 3.0 grade-point average, Thompson said. He also was on the basketball team.
"He was resilient rather than succumbing to what a lot of students succumb to," Thompson said.
Holmes' neighborhood is one of the roughest in Camden, with boarded-up houses and open drug markets.
"Our students have to overcome far more than [students] in surrounding areas, even just walking to school," Thompson said.
Holmes' father, Kenneth Sr., 33, had been arrested on weapons charges hours before the fire. A 22-year-old woman recently pressed charges after Holmes allegedly pointed a gun at her head, said Jason Laughlin, spokesman for the Camden County prosecutor.
Charges against Holmes included unlawful possession of a firearm and making terroristic threats. When police served his arrest warrant Thursday evening, officers found drugs in the house and charged him with drug possession and related offenses, Laughlin said.
Holmes' bail, set at $200,000, had not been posted as of late Friday afternoon.
Authorities could not say whether Holmes' arrest and the fire were related. Laughlin said the fire "had the possibility of being suspicious."
Neighbors woke up sometime after 5 a.m. to the smell of smoke and the sound of yelling.
"I thought it was a fight," Angel Cruz, who lives around the corner, said.
When Cruz came outside about 5:30 a.m., he saw the woman who had escaped from the house.
"She was lying on the ground crying, and saying that there were two other people inside," Cruz said.
The fire was brought under control by 6 a.m. As the Fire Marshal's Office and Camden County Prosecutor's Office investigated, neighbors and friends gathered to watch and console one another.
Chris Carmickel gazed at the investigators while playing with a basketball between his hands.
Carmickel, 16, an incoming junior at Camden High, had played basketball with Holmes on Thursday afternoon.
"He's funny, man," Carmickel said softly. "He's my partner. . . . We were both trying to find summer jobs."
Holmes was described as a good friend who loved sports, especially basketball.
"He was the best," Carmickel said.
Contact Claudia Vargas at 856-779-3917, email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @InqCVargas.