Police: Gunman Kills 12, Injures 59 in Colorado Movie Theater
Courtesy: University of Colorado-Denver
New York City's police commissioner says the gunman in the Colorado movie theater rampage had painted his hair red and called himself the Joker -- the villain from the Batman movies.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Friday that he had been briefed about the shootings that killed 12 and wounded nearly 60 others at a showing of the new Batman movie "The Dark Knight Rises" at a suburban Denver theater.
Kelly and his spokesman did not say who briefed him.
Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates would not confirm the information about suspected gunman James Holmes, but confirmed he had spoken to Kelly. The two used to work together in New York.
At an earlier press conference, Chief Oats said Holmes, wearing a gas mask, hurled a gas canister first and then opened fire.
When the smoke began to spread, some moviegoers thought it was a stunt that was part of the "The Dark Knight Rises," one of the most highly anticipated films of the summer. They saw a silhouette of a person in the haze near the screen, first pointing a gun at the crowd and then shooting.
"There were bullet (casings) just falling on my head. They were burning my forehead," Jennifer Seeger said, adding that the gunman, dressed like a SWAT team member, fired steadily except when he stopped to reload.
"Every few seconds it was just: Boom, boom, boom," she said. "He would reload and shoot and anyone who would try to leave would just get killed."
One of the people fleeing the mass shooting says he tried to shut the door on the suspected gunman.
Twenty-three-year-old Eric Hunter says he and his friends made their way to an exit door after seeing smoke and hearing shots during the movie. When they opened the door, Hunter says they saw two teenage girls -- one of whom had been shot in the mouth. Hunter says he was about to close the door when he saw the shooter, dressed in a bullet-proof vest and a gas mask, approaching. Hunter says he held the door closed and the gunman banged on it for about 10 seconds. Afraid that the shooter would start firing through the door, Hunter says he let it go and managed to get out of the theater.
The suspect was taken into custody and identified by federal law enforcement officials as 24-year-old James Holmes. Authorities did not release a motive. The FBI said there was no indication of ties to any terrorist groups.
Police said he had an AR-15 assault rifle, a shotgun, and two .40-caliber Glock handguns. During a police news conference, Aurora's police chief said, "We are confident he acted alone."
Chief Oates went on to say Holmes had no criminal history on file, other than a traffic summons for speeding in October 2011.
"FBI agents and police used a hook and ladder fire truck to reach Holmes' apartment in Aurora, police Chief Oates said. They put a camera at the end of a 12-foot pole inside the apartment, and discovered that the unit was booby trapped. Authorities evacuated five buildings as they tried to determine how to disarm flammable and explosive material.
Victims were being treated for chemical exposure apparently related to canisters thrown by the gunman. Some of those injured are children, including a 4-month-old baby who was released from the hospital.
Aurora police spokesman Frank Fania on ABC's "Good Morning America" said he didn't know yet if all the injuries were gunshot wounds. He said some might have been caused by other things such as shrapnel.
Chief Oates said at least one person was hit in an adjoining theater when bullet went through the wall.
Mayor Steve Hogan says although the community is grieving right now, they will get through this tragedy. "We will all come together. We'll survive this. But there is no way around it. It's tough. You can't have that many people die and that many more people be injured in an absolutely senseless situation, and not see it as anything but tough."
Police released a written statement from Holmes' family: "Our hearts go out to those who were involved in this tragedy and to the families and friends of those involved."
The movie opened across the world Friday with midnight showings in the U.S. The shooting prompted officials to cancel the Paris premiere, with workers pulling down the red carpet display at a theater on the famed Champs-Elysees Avenue.
President Barack Obama said he was saddened by the "horrific and tragic shooting," pledging that his administration was "committed to bringing whoever was responsible to justice, ensuring the safety of our people, and caring for those who have been wounded."(more quotes below)
Both the President and Mitt Romney's campaigns asked Colorado TV-stations to pull their negative ads out of respect for the shooting victims.
Mitt Romney cancelled his New Hampshire campaign event - and spoke to supporters about the shooting. "Ann and I join the president and first lady and all Americans in offering our deepest condolences for those whose lives were shattered in a few moments, a few moments of evil."
It was the worst mass shooting in the U.S. since the Nov. 5, 2009 attack at Fort Hood, Texas, when an Army psychiatrist killed 13 soldiers and civilians and more than two dozen others wounded.
In Colorado, it was the deadliest since the Columbine High School massacre on April 20, 1999, when two students opened fire at the school in the Denver suburb of Littleton, killing 12 classmates and a teacher and wounding 26 others before killing themselves.
The mall in Aurora, the state's third-largest city, has been the scene of violence before.
In July 2001, two men were shot and wounded inside the mall following an argument. In June 2005, a woman was killed and her boyfriend and a bystander were wounded following an argument inside the mall. Two men were arrested in that case, at least one of whom was sentenced to life in prison.
Friday's attack began shortly after midnight at the multiplex theater.
The film has several scenes of public mayhem -- a hallmark of superhero movies. In one scene, the main villain Bane leads an attack on the stock exchange and, in another, leads a shooting and bombing rampage on a packed football stadium.
It was the final installment of the "Dark Knight" trilogy directed by Christopher Nolan, starring Christian Bale as Batman. The series has a darker tone than previous Batman incarnations. It is the follow-up to "The Dark Knight," which won Heath Ledger a posthumous Oscar for his searing portrayal of The Joker.
The gunman released a gas that smelled like pepper spray from a green canister with a tag on it, Seeger said.
"I thought it was showmanship. I didn't think it was real," she said.
Seeger said she was in the second row, about four feet from the gunman, when he pointed a gun at her face. At first, "I was just a deer in headlights. I didn't know what to do," she said. Then she ducked to the ground as the gunman shot people seated behind her.
She said she began crawling toward an exit when she saw a girl about 14 years old "lying lifeless on the stairs." She saw a man with a bullet wound in his back and tried to check his pulse, but "I had to go. I was going to get shot."
Witness Shayla Roeder said she saw a young teenage girl on the ground bleeding outside the theater. "She just had this horrible look in her eyes .... We made eye contact and I could tell she was not all right," Roeder said.
Police, ambulances and emergency crews swarmed on the scene after frantic calls started flooding the 911 switchboard, officials said. Officers came running in and telling people to leave the theater, Salina Jordan told the Denver Post. She said some police were carrying and dragging bodies.
Hayden Miller told KUSA-TV that he heard several shots. "Like little explosions going on and shortly after that we heard people screaming," he told the station. Hayden said at first he thought it was part of a louder movie next door. But then he saw "people hunched over leaving theater."
Police Chief Oates says there were four showings of the movie at the time and all were sold out. He did not know how many people that amounts to.
Oates says investigators are confident the gunman acted alone.
Oates says Holmes wore body armor, used an assault rifle, a shotgun and a Glock handgun.
He says Holmes' car was parked in back of the theater.
Holmes was a student at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver until last month, spokeswoman Jacque Montgomery said. She did not know when he started school or why he withdrew.
At least 59 people were being treated at Denver area hospitals. Two victims died at area hospitals. The ten other victims died inside the theater.
A sports blogger who recently wrote of surviving a Toronto shooting was among those killed.
The brother of Jessica Ghawi, who was known as Jessica Redfield, tells The Associated Press that his sister was shot during the midnight showing of the Batman movie.
Jordan Ghawi says her death is "complete and utter shock."
Holmes is scheduled for a court appearance in Arapahoe County on Monday.
Because of the tragedy, the Department of Homeland Security is actually assisting theaters across the country - just in case a copycat emerges. The National Association of Theater Owners is reviewing its safety checklist for theaters and other public places with Homeland Security. The association says it is also in touch with local police departments across the country.
Earlier today, our local law enforcement agencies came together and decided to increase patrols at events going on this weekend. "Hopefully giving some of our residents piece of mind. But just understand that there's always that unknown risk, there's always that unknown threat, and we want people to remain vigilant," says Washoe County Deputy Armando Avina.
Authorities remind you if you see something suspicious report it - so law enforcement can respond accordingly.
"Warner Bros. and the filmmakers are deeply saddened to learn about this shocking incident. We extend our sincere sympathies to the families and loved ones of the victims at this tragic time," the studio said.
Nevada Senator Harry Reid released this statement regarding the shootings:
"The shooting in the Aurora movie theater is a national tragedy, and the victims of this cruel and violent act are in my thoughts. Innocent people suffered a heartbreaking loss, but the victims and their families are not alone. Today, Americans take time to reflect on the value of life and the things that are most important to us, and mourn for those who lost what is most important to them. Everyone affected by this violent act will be in our hearts today, and for a long time to come."
Senator Dean Heller released this statement:
"I am deeply saddened by the tragedy in Colorado and my thoughts and prayers go out to all of the victims and their family members. The event that occurred last night is heartbreaking not only for the community of Aurora but for all Americans. This is a very sad day and I stand with the entire nation as we grieve the loss of life in this tragic incident," said Senator Heller.
Congresswoman Shelley Berkley released this statement:
"I was saddened and horrified to learn of the tragic and senseless shooting that took place in Aurora, Colorado. My thoughts and prayers are with the innocent victims, their families and the entire Aurora community during this time of mourning. I expect those who were responsible to be swiftly brought to justice."
President Obama elaborated on the shootings while in Ft. Myers, Florida:
"We're going to stand by our neighbors in Colorado during this extraordinarily difficult time. And I had a chance to speak with the Mayor of Aurora as well as the Governor of Colorado to express, not just on behalf of Michelle and myself, but the entire American family, how heartbroken we are.
"Now, even as we learn how this happened and who's responsible, we may never understand what leads anybody to terrorize their fellow human beings like this. Such violence, such evil is senseless. It's beyond reason. But while we will never know fully what causes somebody to take the life of another, we do know what makes life worth living. The people we lost in Aurora loved and they were loved. They were mothers and fathers; they were husbands and wives; sisters and brothers; sons and daughters, friends and neighbors. They had hopes for the future and they had dreams that were not yet fulfilled.
"And if there's anything to take away from this tragedy it's the reminder that life is very fragile. Our time here is limited and it is precious. And what matters at the end of the day is not the small things, it's not the trivial things, which so often consume us and our daily lives. Ultimately, it's how we choose to treat one another and how we love one another. (Applause.)
"It's what we do on a daily basis to give our lives meaning and to give our lives purpose. That's what matters. At the end of the day, what we'll remember will be those we loved and what we did for others. That's why we're here."
The Department of Defense released this statement:
"The Department of Defense is deeply saddened by the news of the tragic incident at the Aurora Mall Movie Theater in Aurora, Colo. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and the families of those impacted by this event.
"One sailor was injured and one, known to have been at the theatre that evening, is currently unaccounted for. Two airmen were injured in the incident. The Navy and the Air Force are working with the families of these service members to ensure they have the care and attention they need.
"We can also confirm that the alleged gunman in this incident, James Holmes, is not a past or current member of any branch or component of the U.S. Armed Forces."