Killer called himself the Joker—NYC police commissioner
Injured now 59 in Colorado theater shootingBy P. Solomon Banda, Thomas Peipert
AURORA, Colorado—A gunman in a gas mask hurled a gas canister and opened fire in a sold-out Colorado theater during a midnight showing of the new Batman movie Friday, killing 12 people and injuring 59 (from 40 as earlier reported) in one of the deadliest mass shootings in recent U.S. history.
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 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 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.
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.
The suspect was not talking to investigators, a law enforcement official briefed on the investigation said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in discussing the ongoing case. The person also said police found jars of chemicals in Holmes’ booby-trapped apartment with wires nearby.
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.
While some witnesses said the gunman entered through a side-door emergency exit at the front of the theater, a federal law enforcement official said the suspect bought a ticket and went into the theater 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 theater 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.
Among the wounded were three members of the U.S. Armed Forces. Aurora is home to a large Defense 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.
“The Dark Knight Rises” opened across the world Friday, but 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. Two police officers were stationed outside the AMC theater in New York’s Times Square.
“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.
President Barack Obama said he was saddened by the “horrific and tragic shooting,” and he cut short campaigning to return to the White House, where flags were lowered in mourning.
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II sent a message of sympathy Friday to Obama. “I was saddened to learn of the tragic loss of life earlier today in Denver, Colorado. Prince Philip joins me in extending our heartfelt sympathy to you and the people of America at this time,” the British monarch said in a note sent to the White House.
In Washington, the Department of Homeland Security held a conference call with officials from the commercial, entertainment and shopping mall industries to discuss what security measures they could take in the future.
Associated Press writers Kristen Wyatt, Steven K. Paulson, P. Solomon Banda, Ivan Moreno and Mead Gruver in Aurora, Dan Elliott and Colleen Slevin in Denver, Alex Katz in New York, David Stringer in London and Eileen Sullivan and Alicia Caldwell in Washington contributed to this report.