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Authorities said Holmes shot scores of people, picking off victims who tried to flee. At least one person was struck in an adjacent theater by gunfire that went through the wall. Adding to the terror and chaos were two gas canisters thrown by the suspect that filled the theater with smoke.

Tanner Coon, a 17-year-old Aurora resident who was watching the film with two friends, said he first thought the gunshots were firecrackers. When he realized what was happening, he ducked between seats and waited for the shooter to bark demands.

When the firing ended, Coon said he started running up the row but slipped in blood and fell on a woman who was lying on the ground. He tried shaking her, he said, but she didn’t respond, so he left her behind and ran from the theater.

The shooting was the worst 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. It was the deadliest in Colorado since the 1999 attack at Columbine High School, where two students killed 12 classmates and a teacher and wounded 26 others before killing themselves.

Holmes had enrolled last year in a neuroscience Ph.D. program at the University of Colorado-Denver, though he left last month for unknown reasons. In academic achievement, “he was at the top of the top,” recalled Timothy P. White, chancellor at the University of California, Riverside, where Holmes earned his undergraduate degree before attending the Denver school.

Those who knew Holmes described him as a shy, intelligent person raised in California by parents who were active in their well-to-do suburban San Diego neighborhood. Holmes played soccer at Westview High School and ran cross-country before going to college.

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Associated Press contributors to this report include Kristen Wyatt, Steven K. Paulson, Ivan Moreno, P. Solomon Banda in Aurora; Dan Elliott, Nick Riccardi and Colleen Slevin in Denver; Tom Hays in New York; Brian Skoloff in Salt Lake City; Monika Mathur and Jennifer Farrar at News Research Center in New York; and Alicia A. Caldwell and Eileen Sullivan in Washington.