On July 20, 2012, a gunman opened fire during a midnight premiere of the film The Dark Knight Rises in a Cinemark movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, killing 12 people and injuring 58 others. The gunman, acting alone and dressed in protective clothing, entered the theater and set off tactical grenades, then opened fire on the theatergoers with multiple firearms. The attack received worldwide media coverage, being one of the deadliest mass murders in contemporary United States history.
The attack occurred in Theater 9 at the Century 16 movie theater next to the Town Center at Aurora shopping mall. The shooter bought a ticket and walked into Theater 9. He then left through an emergency exit, propping it open, and dressed in protective black clothing and gathered weapons from his car, which was parked behind the exit. He returned through the emergency exit about half an hour into the film, “dressed all in black; he was wearing a ballistic helmet, a tactical ballistic vest, ballistic leggings, a throat protector and a groin protector and a gas mask, and black tactical gloves,” according to Aurora police chief Dan Oates.
Oates said that the suspect used two devices to distract the audience members, which “ignited some sort of irritant or smoke” in the cinema,before using a Smith & Wesson AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, a 12-gauge Remington Model 870 shotgun, and a .40 caliber Glock handgun to shoot at the crowd in the cinema. A second Glock handgun was found in the suspect’s white Hyundai car behind the cinema.
Most of the audience did not take the gunman as a threat when he first entered the theater. He appeared to be wearing a costume, but others too had dressed up for the movie and thought the gunman was pulling off a prank until he dispersed gas canisters and began firing his weapons. Some present thought the gunman was part of a special effects installation set up for the premiere.
Around the first gun scene in the movie, the now masked gunman threw a canister emitting smoke, which partially obscured the audience’s sight. The gunman produced a rifle and opened fire on the audience, only stopping to reload his weapon. First he shot to the back of the room, and then aimed towards people who were trying to get away through the aisles. Some bullets penetrated the wall of the cinema and injured people in the adjoining Theater 8, where the same film was being screened. Upon leaving, an audience member saw the gunman advancing toward the exit and blocked his progress by holding the exit shut while the attacker pounded the other side of the door.
The first 9-1-1 calls were made at 12:39 am, and the police arrived less than 90 seconds later, and apprehended the suspect. The police interviewed over 200 witnesses following the attack.Investigators believe that the shooter acted on his own, and was not part of a larger group or a terrorist organization. The alleged shooter, James Eagan Holmes, had bought approximately 6,000 rounds of ammunition in the 60 days prior to the shooting.
The injured were treated at Children’s Hospital, Denver Health Medical Center, Medical Center of Aurora, Parker Adventist Hospital, Rose Medical Center, Swedish Hospital, and University Hospital, as well as at a makeshift hospital set up at the scene of the attack. Uninjured witnesses were transported to Gateway High School for debriefing. The victims’ ages ranged from 3 months to 45 years.
|Last name||First name||Age|
|Last name||First name||Age|
|Last name||First name||Age||Injury|
|Anderson||Petra||22||shot four times with shotgun pellets, one pellet entered her nose and traveled through her brain according to the AP|
|Barton||Stephen||22||Shotgun wound to the neck|
|Duran||Louis||18||shot in the chest with a shotgun.|
|Fry||Jacci||23||hit by shrapnel and overcome with tear gas|
|Golditch||Zach||Wound entry below right ear, exit at hairline|
|Hankins||Gage||18||shot in the arm|
|Lowek||Brent||shot – unknown where|
|Lumba||Ryan||17||Shot in stomach, underwent surgery.|
|Medley||Caleb||report that he was shot in the face|
|O’Farrill||Pierce||Shot in the arm and foot|
|Patria||Prodeo||14||bullet lodged in his side.|
|Pourciau||Bonnie Kate||18||Shot in the knee|
|Paulina||Rita||45||hit three times, once in the front of her lower left leg, once slightly above her left elbow, once below the same joint.|
|Ropoza||Chris||28||grazed in the back with a bullet|
|Rottman||Carey||27||Gunshot wound to the left thigh|
|Weaver||Marcus||41||Two bullets lodged in shoulder|
|Yowler||Samantha||Bullet to the leg|
At the scene
The alleged shooter, James Eagan Holmes (born December 13, 1987), was taken into police custody at the scene. He was found next to his car in the theater parking lot and did not resist arrest. The responding officers recovered multiple firearms from inside the vehicle. Two federal authorities told ABC News that the suspect painted his hair red and called himself “The Joker,” although Aurora police chief Dan Oates would not confirm this.
Once apprehended, Holmes told authorities about explosives in his residence in northern Aurora. Police were treating the home, 5 miles (8 km) from the scene of the crime, as a site where explosives might be present. According to the police, Holmes himself told them that he had booby-trapped his apartment before heading to the theater; as a result, police evacuated five nearby buildings and cleared the area. Police stated that the explosives “look[ed] very sophisticated.” The apartment complex is limited to University of Colorado Medical Center students, patients, and staff members. FBI agents and police officers used a ladder to access Holmes’ apartment, where they used a camera mounted on a pole to confirm that the apartment was booby-trapped with explosives.
Holmes was raised in San Diego, California. He graduated from Westview High School in the Torrey Highlands community of San Diego in 2006, where he played soccer and ran cross-country before going to college. He obtained an undergraduate degree with honors in neuroscience from the University of California, Riverside in 2010. Holmes enrolled as a PhD student in neuroscience at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora. In 2012, his academic performance declined, and he was in the process of withdrawing from school.
President Barack Obama extended his condolences to the victims and their families, addressing the tragedy in lieu of a scheduled campaign event. Both Obama’s and Mitt Romney‘s election campaigns temporarily suspended television advertising in Colorado for the upcoming presidential election. Secretary Janet Napolitano also directed the Department of Homeland Security to offer support in the investigation. President Obama ordered flags at government buildings flown at half staff, in tribute to the victims, until July 25.
The distributor of The Dark Knight Rises, Warner Bros., stated that they were deeply saddened by the shooting. They canceled the film’s Paris premiere and suspended the marketing campaign for it in Finland. The police departments in the New York metropolitan area increased security after the attack. Certain versions of television advertisements for the movie have been cancelled. Warner Bros. stopped showing a trailer for the film Gangster Squad, a trailer which was shown prior to the Aurora screening at which the shooting occurred, because of a scene involving a mass shooting in a movie theater.
Many candlelight vigils were held in the Denver and Aurora areas.