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12 dead in Colorado theater shooting

Gunman threw chemical canister into theater during showing of “The Dark Knight Rises,” then opened fire

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Ed Andrieski / AP

An Aurora Police officer talks on his radio outside of the Century 16 theater at Aurora Mall where as many as 14 people were killed and many injured at a shooting at the Century 16 movie theatre in Aurora, Colo., Friday, July 20, 2012.

Updated Friday, July 20, 2012 | 11:30 a.m.

Batman shooting

An Aurora Police officer talks on his radio outside of the Century 16 theater at Aurora Mall where as many as 14 people were killed and many injured at a shooting at the Century 16 movie theatre in Aurora, Colo., Friday, July 20, 2012. Launch slideshow »

AURORA, Colo. (AP) — A gunman wearing a gas mask and black SWAT gear hurled a gas canister inside a crowded movie theater during a midnight showing of the new Batman movie Friday and then opened fire, killing 12 people and wounding nearly 60 others in an attack so bizarre that some moviegoers at first thought they were watching Hollywood special effects.

As smoke from the canister spread, audience members watching "The Dark Knight Rises" at the suburban Denver theater saw the silhouette of a person materialize near the screen, point a gun at the crowd and begin shooting, apparently without a word.

New York City's police commissioner said he was told the gunman had painted his hair red and called himself the Joker — Batman's nemesis — but Aurora police would not confirm that.

It was one of the deadliest mass shootings in recent U.S. history.

The suspected gunman, identified as James Holmes, a 24-year-old doctoral student in neuroscience who was about to drop out of the University of Colorado-Denver, was arrested near a car behind the theater.

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

"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."

Police said 71 people in all were shot.

Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates said the gunman wore a gas mask, a ballistic helmet and vest, and leg, groin and throat protectors. He said he had an AR-15 military-style, semi-automatic rifle, a shotgun and two pistols.

While some witnesses said the gunman entered through a side-door emergency exit at the front of the theater, a federal law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Holmes bought a ticket and went into the theater as part of the crowd. The official said Holmes then apparently propped open an exit door in the theater as the movie was playing, donned the protective ballistic gear and opened fire.

FBI agents and police used a hook-and-ladder fire truck to reach Holmes' apartment in Aurora. 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.

In New York City, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said: "It clearly looks like a deranged individual. He has his hair painted red. He said he was the Joker, obviously the enemy of Batman."

Oates would not confirm that information, but confirmed he had spoken to Kelly. The two used to work together in New York.

Some of the victims were treated for chemical exposure apparently related to canisters thrown by the gunman. Those hurt included a 4-month-old baby, who was treated at a hospital and released.

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

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, and audience members said they thought it was part of the movie, or some kind of stunt associated with it.

The film has several scenes of public mayhem — a hallmark of superhero movies. In one scene, the 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."

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.

Sylvana Guillen, 20, said that when a man appeared at the front of the theater clad in dark clothing looking like a SWAT team member as Catwoman made an appearance in the movie, the audience "thought it was a joke, a hoax." Then they heard gunshots and smelled smoke from a canister he was carrying, and Guillen knew it was real.

The gunman began walking toward the seats and firing. Guillen said she told her friend, Misha Mostashiry, "You better get ready to be shot."

"All you could do is hope he didn't come for you," Mostashiry said.

The two ran for the emergency exit and safely escaped. On their dash to the exit, they saw a man slip in the blood of a wounded woman he was trying to help.

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.

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.

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  1. Yeah! More guns...that's the answer! Then other people could have stood up and hit other bystanders. Thanks gun idiots for all you do to make sure insane people have easy access to guns!

  2. In a blaze of Gory...

    The World gone nuts.
    Don't concern yourselves;
    We live in a Stephen King Novel.
    I KNOW, it's scary...
    What part are YOU playing???

    p.s...
    I'm sure if this young man hadn't had EZ access to...well, the whole GETUP; chemical cannister, GAS MASK, body armor, weaponry, etc...he'd have done it with a KITCHEN KNIFE, or...or...his CAR!

  3. I hope the nation doesn't overreact by this, there is a reaction to this horrible event and there is an overreaction to this event. Please keep your feelings in check, dont turn our country in to a place where we have to be stripped down before flying anywhere or when wanting to go see a movie.

  4. Chunky says:

    It's an epic tragedy.

    What Chunky doesn't understand is how the anti-gun crowd concludes that someone crazed enough to carry out a planned attack of this magnitude would not do it if there were stricter laws on legitimate gun ownership. Do you really think this guy gave a darn about gun laws or any other laws?

    Clearly these types of killers, thugs and criminals have no regard for the very strict laws regarding murder in any manner. If not a gun, they'd simply find another method to inflict their damage. The early reports indicate there were armed police at the theater for crowd control, yet this guy did his dirty deed anyway.

    It's very inconvenient to safely carry and manage a concealed firearm on a daily basis. Keeping it hidden from view getting in and out of the car and leaving it in a secured lock-box inside the car for those places you can't lawfully carry requires extra thought to your actions throughout the entire day.

    Yet, in those moments when Chunky feels a bit lazy to not carry when it's just a quick bite to eat, hitting the gym or picking up laundry, he thinks about all the random shootings that have occurred in almost every venue you can imagine. It's too bad that almost no place is safe anymore but it's also too bad that there was no one in that theater armed to try to fight back as far as we know at this time.

    Legitimate gun owners despise these shootings as much or more than everyone else and we wonder how we might have reacted ourselves.

    A psychotic determined attacker using any weapon or their bare hands if trained are formidable adversaries even if you are armed yourself.

    That's what Chunky thinks!

  5. As a democrat I have no issue with a person's right to arms. At issue is the ease to which nut cases and the criminal element can acquire them.

  6. Just because the 2nd amendment gives a person the right to bear arms, that does not mean every person should have one. Canada has more guns per capita than the US but the number of gun crimes is vastly LESS. The problem with the US is anger management. Do you think the man involved in the road rage incident several days ago is having second thoughts about shooting the teen driver. A gun is not the solution to every problem. There is a time and place for guns. (And I am not an anti-gun activist).

  7. Poilitcal Correctness is killing our country. The Shooter of Gabby Gifford was flatass CRAZY !! But don't say that in public because that not nice.

    The shooter at Virginia Tech was Crazy.

    I'll bet when we dig into this guys background we'll find mental problems too. But don't be judgmental !!

    "Can't we all just get along"? The answer is NO!

    Until we get these Crazy people under control and yes that might mean putting them away for a definite amount of time, we will continue to see these kinds of acts continue...

    They're CRAZY folks..Sorry but that's the truth

  8. Mark Schaffer,

    You CANNOT legislate on the basis of mad men. If we were to do that then we already would have thrown ourselves into the relatively "secure" "safety net" of a "benevolent" dictatorship. If we can learn from history it is that tragedies of this nature can never be entirely avoided. They are awful, but couldn't we just put a police man on every corner in the entire country? Or take guns away from citizens entirely and just leave it to the government to hopefully not abuse their power and oppress us? I hope those questions leave room for self contemplation as their answers should be apparent.

  9. stephenrblv..... Their actions speak volumes. Everyone who knew the shooters in the Virginia Tech and Gabby Giffords cases said the those persons exhibited bizarre, crazy attributes...but no one would say anything or intercede due to political correctness.

    Major Hasan was a Crazy Muslim, but don't point his hostile actions towards the military out because you will be vilified as a racist. It might offend the Muslim community.

    It time we start offending more individuals and prevent this kind of slaughter.

  10. A personal weapon is no defense against someone wearing a bullet deflecting vest. Tear gas canisters, gas masks, armored vests and hand weapons of mass destruction with large ammunition clips are readily available to even the most casual psycho.

    It's time we started offending the National Rifle Association.

  11. Jeffrey,
    How many U.S. citizens were killed and maimed by guns last year?

  12. SHORT sighted. The Perpetrator's inability to see leaving grad school as a mere time line adjustment or chance to hone his career choice just a bit--that his first choice might not have been the best choice for him. "Guidance" counselors and teachers for harping on the "value" of higher ed while neglecting actual guidance that as one gains life skills and career skills they might do VERY well in their second or third choice of careers. Movie "producers" for endlessly "creating" cartoons without applicability to the real world. We are sick and tired of romance sit coms and cartoon movies. Even children complain that there is no substance in the content, just chiming voices and sing song "plots".

  13. Eddie, since I'm almost Canadian (by less than 100 miles) allow me to point out that the more sparsely populated country has Citizens who need protection. Anger management is a problem there too and in a more remote homestead, one likes to have a rifle or gun nearby when strangers approach or invade. We have an administration that "walks" guns into the hands of drug dealers and throughout Mexico but they don't want us to have guns? We should let the armed illegals invade and be completely defenseless while they take our lives by force?

  14. @lv-tom "Until we get these Crazy people under control and yes that might mean putting them away for a definite amount of time, we will continue to see these kinds of acts continue..."

    John Nash was a great mathematician and a 1994 Nobel Prize winner in economics, yet accomplished all that despite having a severe case of Schizoaffective disorder. Oh, and his symptoms didn't start to appear until he was working on his post graduate thesis. much like the ALLEGED shooter.
    Brian Wilson, Syd Barret, Tom Harrell, Peter Greene changed the face of modern music, all while suffering from Schizoaffective disorder.

    Mental illness does not render a person incapable of having a normal life any more than having cancer, diabetes or heart disease keeps people from accomplishing great things.

    In fact Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery, won a war and preserved what we know today as the USA, and yet was mentally ill.

    John Keats, Edgar Allen Poe, Jack Kerouac, Ernest Hemingway, Leo Tolstoy and Charles Dickens created timeless works of literature shockingly despite suffering from mental illness.

    I find ignorance, whether from the left and it tendency to blame the method and not the man, or the right and its ignorance that mental illness far more than the the so called "crazies." If we out a third of our resources into educating the public on mental illness as we do educating it on erectile disfunction, we would be better off.

  15. and speaking of ignorance

    @tomd..." There aren't going to be storm troopers breaking down your door, taking your children, seizing your jewels."

    Really no "storm troopers breaking down your door?" Sorry to break it to you, but it is happening. It happened this week( bit.ly/NJOS2i). they do it in Tucson (http://bit.ly/ONSm67). They do it it the heartland (http://bit.ly/PuBOB4) they do it in Colorado as well (http://bit.ly/QbJr1W) and as for "taking your children," well they do that in California (http://bit.ly/LF9pYM0) and right here in Las Vegas (http://bit.ly/NGNOPs)

    Educate yourself.