Gunman kills 12 at premiere of Batman film

Sat, Jul 21, 2012, 01:00

JAMES EAGEN Holmes (24) propped open the rear exit of cinema nine in the Century 16 Movie Theatre in Aurora, a suburb of Denver, Colorado, where close to 300 people were watching the midnight premiere of the Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises.

Holmes was dressed in black, with a ballistic helmet, bullet-proof vest, groin and leg protectors and black gloves. He wore a gas mask and carried an AR15 assault rifle, a Remington shotgun and at least one 40-calibre Glock handgun. A second Glock was found in the white Hyundai he parked outside the cinema door.

Holmes was in the process of withdrawing from the doctoral programme in neuroscience at the University of Colorado. In the photograph released by the university, he looks like an ordinary young man, with a pleasant smile and dark hair. Police apprehended Holmes minutes after he shot dead 12 people and wounded 59 others at 12.30am yesterday. They refused to release his mugshot.

Members of the audience wore Batman theme costumes, so when Holmes stepped in front of the screen in the midst of a movie shoot-out he did not look out of place. It was hard to see in the dark cinema, and even after he ignited what police chief Dan Oates called “two devices that released irritant or smoke”, some assumed it was a special effect designed to enhance enjoyment of the film.

For a few horrific moments, fiction and reality merged. The film kept playing as Holmes walked calmly up the centre aisle, shooting randomly into the audience.

Cinemagoer Quentin Caldwell saw a young couple holding a bleeding woman by her face, guiding her out. “I looked to my right and another gentleman is holding his stomach and running down the stairs trying to get out of there,” he told CNN. Some people failed to understand what was happening and stayed in their seats, thinking the film would continue. “I looked at them like, ‘this is real. There’s something wrong. We need to leave now.’”

Adam Witt, a wounded survivor, recounted diving to the floor, pulling his wife down with him. “It was the longest minute of my life. The gunshots just kept coming. I knew it could be over any second. I knew my wife could be gone any second. It was absolutely surreal. I felt something hit my left arm, and my first thought was ‘at least it’s just my arm’.”

Some people were trampled in the panic. Video captured on mobile phones shows scores of screaming people rushing out of the building. The cinema is only three blocks from the police station. Oates said 25 policemen arrived on the scene within a minute and a half of the first of hundreds of 911 calls.

As people rushed out of the building, police asked them to raise their arms to ensure they were not carrying weapons. A middle-aged black man walked calmly through the pandemonium in the cinema lobby, his striped shirt soaked in blood. A child in a Batman costume seemed to float by. Several witnesses described a cop carrying a girl in his arms who appeared to be about nine years old. She had been shot in the back and was not moving.

The Batman films are so popular that the movie was being shown in three theatres simultaneously. Plaster flew off the wall in an adjacent cinema. “People stood up and started checking themselves . . . A couple of people were moaning,” one witness said.

Ten of the 12 dead perished in the cinema, two more at hospital. There were not enough ambulances, so police helped transport the wounded to six different hospitals. They ranged from a three-month-old infant to someone aged 45. Four members of the military were among them.

The dead included Jessica Ghawi (24), an aspiring sportswriter who had just moved to Colorado from Texas, and wrote under the name Jessica Redfield.

Last month, Ghawi narrowly missed being caught in a mass shooting in a Toronto shopping mall. In her last blog post, she wrote that she had an “empty, almost sickening feeling” seconds before the gunman opened fire that “led me to go outside and unknowingly out of harm’s way. It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around how a weird feeling saved me from being in the middle of a deadly shooting”.

Holmes, the gunman, was apprehended in the back of the cinema and “surrendered without any significant incident”, police chief Oates said. He told police there were explosives in his apartment on Paris Street, four miles away.

Neighbours in five buildings were evacuated at 4am. Oates confirmed the apartment was booby-trapped with “incendiary devices, chemical elements, all kinds of wires – it’s something I’ve never seen before. We don’t know why he told us”.

Twelve hours after the massacre, FBI special agent Jim Yacone said there were 100 FBI agents working on the case.

“We are trying to run some leads beyond Colorado,” he said, an apparent allusion to the bureau’s talks with Holmes’s mother in San Diego, California.

The Holmes family issued a statement, saying their hearts went out to the victims, requesting respect for their privacy and the privacy of the gunman’s neighbours.

Authorities also asked media to spare the families of victims, who were taken to a nearby high school. The city set up a hotline for those who felt traumatised.

“At this point, we do not see a nexus of terrorism,” Yacone said. “We are not looking for any other suspects,” Oates added. “We are confident he acted alone.”

Holmes’s only previous contact with the police was a speeding ticket last October.

Oates did not know whether the gunman possessed the four guns legally. The local district attorney, Carol Chambers, said the case will go to court next week.

President Barack Obama and the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney declared a political truce for the day. Both pulled campaign advertisements from television in Colorado. Their wives cancelled campaign events, and Obama cut short a trip to Florida.

“There are going to be other days for politics,” Obama said in Fort Myers, Florida. “This is a day for prayer and reflection.”


Hundreds of Irish cinema-goers were among the first to watch The Dark Knight Rises, which was screened in a number of cinemas at 5am Irish time to coincide with midnight showings of the film in New York cinemas.

Some 600 people attended the Lighthouse cinema in Dublin, where four screens showing the film had sold out by Tuesday, while tickets for a 5am 300-seat screening in Century Cinemas in Letterkenny had sold out by lunchtime yesterday.

Manager of the cinema Mark Doherty said it was his understanding that strong ticket sales for the latest Batman instalment had been repeated across the country yesterday.

Initially strong ticket sales saw the film take in $30.6 million (€25.2 million) across the US and Canada alone during midnight screenings. The figures, released by Warner Bros, a unit of Time Warner Inc, made the film the second-highest grossing film for midnight screenings.

It is thought the ticket sales could be adversely affected by the mass shooting at a showing of the movie in a Denver suburb which left 12 people dead and many others injured.

Hollywood box office watchers said it was too soon to know how ticket sales would be affected, as the industry had never faced a situation such as this.

“It’s too early to tell. This is a tragic and unprecedented event,” said Paul Dergarabedian, box office watcher for

The Paris premiere of The Dark Knight Rises was cancelled yesterday following the shooting. Workmen removed barriers that had been set up in preparation for the premiere at a cinema on the capital’s Champs Élysées avenue.

Separately, Warner Bros announced it had pulled promotional trailers for the upcoming film Gangster Squad, which were being shown before The Dark Knight Rises.

The film features a scene in which men open fire with machine guns on an audience in a movie theatre. – (Additional reporting: Reuters)