Movie shooting-12 killed, 59 wounded
Jul 20, 2012 / 1:51 pm
A gunman in a gas mask hurled a gas canister and opened fire in a sold-out Colorado theatre during a midnight showing of the new Batman movie Friday, killing 12 people and injuring 59 in one of the deadliest mass shootings in recent U.S. history.
When the smoke began to spread, some moviegoers thought it was a stunt that was part of "The Dark Knight Rises," one of the most highly anticipated films of the summer. Then they saw a silhouette of a person in the smoke at the front of the theatre, pointing a gun at the crowd.
"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," Seeger said. "He would reload and shoot and anyone who would try to leave would just get killed."
The shooter was arrested shortly after the attack, and law enforcement officials identified him as 24-year-old citizen and neuroscience graduate student James Holmes.
Authorities did not release a motive. The FBI said there was no indication the shooting was tied to any terrorist groups.
The shooting immediately brought memories of the massacre at nearby Columbine High School in 1999, where two students opened fire and killed 12 classmates and a teacher. Friday's attack was the worst mass shooting in the U.S. since an Army psychiatrist killed 13 soldiers and civilians at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009.
Holmes allegedly wore body armour, used an assault rifle, a shotgun and a Glock handgun, Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates said. He said investigators are confident the gunman acted alone.
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.
FBI agents and police also discovered Holmes' apartment was booby trapped. Authorities evacuated five buildings as they determined how to disarm flammable and explosive material.
"It's something I've never seen before," Oates said.
While some witnesses said the gunman entered through a side-door emergency exit at the front of the theatre, a federal law enforcement official said the suspect bought a ticket and went into the theatre as part of the crowd. He is believed to have propped open an exit door as the movie was playing, put on protective ballistic gear and opened fire. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation.
Authorities said 10 bodies were still in the theatre Friday afternoon. Some of the injured were children, with the youngest a 4-month-old baby who has been released from treatment. Victims were being treated for chemical exposure apparently related to canisters thrown by the gunman.
The Pentagon said some military members were either killed or wounded. Aurora is home to a large Defence Department satellite intelligence operation at Buckley Air Force Base.
Holmes was studying neuroscience in a Ph.D. program at the University of Colorado-Denver graduate school, university spokeswoman Jacque Montgomery said. University officials earlier said he was a student at the university's medical school.
Holmes was in the process of withdrawing at the time of the shootings, Montgomery said.
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."
A man who lives next door to the family said Holmes seemed to be shy. Tom Mai said the mother told him Holmes couldn't find a job after earning a master's degree from a public university in California.
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