Mass Shooting in Aurora Theater, Home of Suspect Booby Trapped

July 20, 2012

Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates

AURORA—The suspect in the midnight movie massacre stormed the showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” in full black tactical gear, igniting two gas canisters and using three firearms to shoot 71 moviegoers, killing 12 and wounding 59.

James Eagen Holmes, 24, surrendered without incident to Aurora police shortly after receiving the first of hundreds of 911 calls at 12:39 a.m. Police, who arrived on the scene within minutes, found him beside his white Hyndai in the parking lot behind the theater.

“We are not looking for any other suspects,” said Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates. “We are confident he acted alone.”

At a noon press conference Friday, law-enforcement officials offered more details on the massacre at the Century 16 theater at the Town Center of Aurora, although they refused to speculate as to the shooter’s motives.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper called it “the act apparently of a very deranged mind.”

“We cannot allow people who are aberrations of nature to take away the joys of freedom that we enjoy,” said Hickenlooper.

Holmes moved to Aurora about a year ago after enrolling in the doctoral program in neuroscience at the University of Colorado Denver. Originally from San Diego, he was reportedly in the process of withdrawing from the program.

Prior to the shooting, Holmes rigged his north Aurora apartment with explosives and trip wires. Police evacuated the building and four others in the area before bringing in a bomb squad, SWAT team and firefighters in an effort to disarm what Oates described as a “booby-trap.”

Oates said the suspect released the canisters of gas in the packed theater and then began shooting about 15 minutes after the showing began. Ten people were found dead at the theater and two died later at area hospitals.

“They heard a hissing sound and some gas emerged and the gunman opened fire,” said Mr. Oates.

The first victim to be publicly identified was Jessica Ghawi, a budding sportscaster and hockey fan who recently moved to Denver from San Antonio. She was described as a bright, effervescent redhead who, in a tragic twist, narrowly missed being caught up in a June 2 food-court shooting in Toronto.

The wounded were uniformly young, ranging in age from six to 31, according to hospital spokespersons. The youngest was a three-month-old baby who was examined and released from University Hospital.

The wounded were being treated for gunshot wounds and chemical exposure at Swedish Medical Center, Denver Health Medical Center, University Hospital, Aurora Medical Center, Children’s Hospital, and Parker Adventist Hospital.

President Obama was notified about the shooting early Friday by Homeland Security officials. So far authorities have said the shooting is unconnected to international terrorism.

“Michelle and I are shocked and saddened by the horrific shooting in Colorado,” said Mr. Obama in a statement. “Federal and local law enforcement are still responding, and my administration will do everything we can to support the people of Aurora in this extraordinarily difficult time.”

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said in a statement that he and his wife Ann were “deeply saddened by the news of the senseless violence.”

“We expect that the person responsible for this terrible crime will be quickly brought to justice,” said Romney.

Hundreds of witnesses to the massacre were brought by bus to Gateway High School in Aurora to be interviewed by authorities. They said the gunman launched his attack in theater nine, but some of his shots penetrated the adjacent wall in theater eight.

Hayden Miller, who was also seeing “The Dark Knight Rises” in theater 16, said he heard 10 to 20 shots and the sound of small explosives going off. Someone pulled the fire alarm and moviegoers were instructed over the public-address system to evacuate, he said.

“It was chaotic. It was like something you’d see in a movie,” Miller told KUSA-TV. “It was surreal. Nobody really believed what was happening.”

Some witnesses said later that they initially thought the smoke and explosives were part of the show.

“We thought, ‘Special effects, a midnight showing, that’s awesome,’” Alex Milano told KUSA-TV.

Police were unable to enter theater nine at first because the smoke was so thick. At least one witness said the gunman moved from theater nine to theater eight to look for additional victims.

Initial reports indicate that the massacre is the worst in Colorado since the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, in which two gunmen killed 13 before committing suicide.

NewsMax reported that several politicians reacted to the shooting with calls for action. “I don’t know why he had such easy access to guns,” Congressman Ed Perlmutter told KOA-AM.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg told a New York radio station, WOR-AM, that the presidential candidates needed to act.

“I mean, there are so many murders with guns every day. It’s just gotta stop,” he said. “And instead of these two people, President Obama and Gov. Romney talking in broad things about [how] they want to make the world a better place. Okay. Tell us how. And this is a problem.”

Colorado state Rep. Rhonda Fields, whose son was shot and killed before he was able to testify against a gang member, said she would hold a prayer vigil for the victims at 7 p.m. Friday at the Aurora Municipal Building.

“We’re all shaken by this,” Mrs. Fields told KUSA-TV. “I don’t care if you have faith. I just want us to come together and be together.”

“The Dark Knight Rises” is expected to rank as one of the year’s biggest blockbusters, with $25 million in tickets sold before the opening. The film, rated PG-13, is the final installment in a trilogy starring Christian Bale.

The Century 16 theater had the midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” playing in four theaters.

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