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Associated Press

AURORA, Colo. (AP) — A graduate student in a gas mask barged into a crowded Denver-area theater during a midnight showing of the new Batman movie Friday, hurled a gas canister and then opened fire, killing 12 people and injuring at least 50 others in one of the deadliest mass shootings in recent US history.

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, 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, stopping only 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.”

The suspect was taken into custody near a car behind the theater and was identified by federal law enforcement officials as 24-year-old James Holmes.

Holmes was studying neuroscience in a Ph.D. program at the University of Colorado-Denver, university spokeswoman Jacque Montgomery said. Holmes enrolled a year ago and was in the process of withdrawing at the time of the shootings, Montgomery said.

Authorities gave no motive for the attack. The FBI said there was no indication of ties to any terrorist groups.

Holmes had an assault rifle, a shotgun and two pistols, a federal law enforcement official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the investigation was still unfolding.

FBI agents and police used a hook and ladder fire truck to reach Holmes’ apartment in Aurora, police Chief Dan Oates said. They put a camera at the end of a 12-foot pole inside the apartment and discovered the unit was booby-trapped. Authorities evacuated five buildings as they tried to figure how to disarm the flammable and explosive material.

At least 24 people were being treated at Denver-area hospitals, some of them for chemical exposure apparently related to canisters thrown by the gunman. Some of those hurt were children, including a 4-month-old baby, who was treated a hospital and released.

Police released a 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 red-carpet premiere in Paris, with workers pulling down the display at a theater on the Champs-Elysees. Around the U.S., police and some movie theaters stepped up security for daytime showings of the movie, though many fans waiting in line said they were not worried about their safety.

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.”

It was the worst mass shooting in the U.S. since the Nov. 5, 2009, attack at Fort Hood, Texas. An Army psychiatrist was charged with killing 13 soldiers and civilians and wounding more than two dozen others.

In Colorado, it was the deadliest since the Columbine High School massacre on April 20, 1999, when two students opened fire in the Denver suburb of Littleton, killing 12 classmates and a teacher and wounding 26 others before killing themselves. Columbine High is about 12 miles from the theater.

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.

The gunman released a gas that smelled like pepper spray from a green canister, 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 of about 14 “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 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. 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.”


Associated Press writers Kristen Wyatt, Steven K. Paulson, Ivan Moreno and Mead Gruver in Aurora, Dan Elliott and Colleen Slevin in Denver and Alicia A. Caldwell and Eileen Sullivan in Washington contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comment on this Story

  • Guest51

    what is happening in America, when you cannot even go to the movies and enjoy yourself. Regardless of what the FBI says,this is an act of terrorism. An act like this changes us, makes us loose our innocence. A movie theater is a place of enjoyment, and way to escape to another world for a couple of hours, and now it is marred with bloodshed.

    Our country is becoming a war zone, mass shootings, so much death, and no one has any respect for the gift of life and enjoyment of living life and feeling safe. I just cannot fathom what is happening and what can be done to stop it. People no longer have respect for themselves or others. I am scared that America is slowly becoming like the West Bank, and that is no way of life.

    I am praying for these victims and families. I hope they find some peace and comfort in whatever spiritual existence they believe in.

  • GuestUSMC

    One fact is known……the element of surprise is always on the side of the aggressor. That being said, there is no way to protect yourself or others from the unknown until it starts to unfold. There is something everybody can do to help even the playing field when the unexpected does happen. Everyone who has never committed a crime with a firearm should be armed….period. This is sure to bring out the sheep in the crowd, but this is the real world. Every citizen should carry a concealed handgun and know how to use it. It should also be lawful to carry it anywhere. Criminals are not deterred by gun laws, so the law needs to let us protect ourselves. My wife and I both have carry permits, (which we should not have to obtain), and we do carry.

  • portcity rider

    What are we going to do with these thugs??????????

  • Guestin

    We should torture them and it will stop. No more human rights after something like this.

  • portcity rider

    There is plenty of evil in this world no matter if you are and inner city young man or med.student(former)What do you do?I know judge each person on there on merit.Can’t get to much Thuggish than this…..

  • tweety12

    This should be a time for reflection,When we hear something in the news we react with nasty and stupid comments.We talk about race and welfare,whom is at fault etc……Life is one of Gods greatest gift(whoever you believe in )Those that were hurt or killed had no idea this was going to habit at the movies a night of fun with friends and family.Just to get away from the troubles of the world for a few hours.Many of us when we first heard the news we wanted to know the color of the shooter.At the end of the day it is still tragic.At some point we all have to start praying for our nation and our young people.I may not have cross every T or dotted every I but like it or not we are all in this thing together.

  • Guest08

    Could you image the choas and the death toll if half the theater were carrying weapons.The gunman firing people firing at him people running for cover think about it i am all for people protecting themselves.Some common sense have to be use at some point.

  • finally someone has said something that makes sense, every contry in this world deals with mass murder, we need to be able to protect our own no matter where we are

  • Guest2020

    I agree with everything you said. Law abiding citizens should not be prohibited from exercising their right to bear arms.

  • guesty

    If States would only actually use their death penalty, maybe some people wouldn’t commit their crimes in the first place.

  • Vog46

    I have thought about this very same thing and came to the conclusion years ago that a truly crazed person would not be deterred by the death penalty. The same holds true for terrorists who believe for whatever reason that death is somehow desirable in accomplishing a goal.
    The shooter appears to be “normal” with no outward signs of emotional distress.
    So we are dumbfounded by whats happened, again. Columbine was not that long ago. The people of Colorado must be devastated, I know I would be – hell, I don’t know what to think of this shooter.
    Gun nuts will say the usual things:
    “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”
    “if someone else in the theater had a gun this wouldn’t have been so bad”
    And of course the gun control advocates are sounding the alarms.
    As a gun owner with a CWP I can say in all honesty maybe it is time to look at controlling assault rifles and ammo.
    Leave me my sidearm(s), hunting rifle, and shotgun.
    I am however contemplating selling them all anyway. I am approaching being “up there” in age, and my family has a history (Mothers side) of Alzheimer’s. I know enough right now to know that I could be dangerous later on and have enough sense about me to want take my own PERSONAL action. I don’t want to be crazy AND have guns around. This, in itself is the ULTIMATE right – the right to control one’s own life. This right trumps the right to bear arms any day.

    Best Regards

  • guesty

    If a person is truly crazy, there is no punishment that can prevent them from following through with his/her plan. If they were still executed, not given a nice hospital stay with happy drugs, that may stop those wanting to do the crazy act. If they are not crazy, only acting crazy and know that in the end they will die just the same, they may rethink the plan. I do possess many handguns and always have one on me or in my vehicle. I will protect my family no matter the consequences.


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