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Obama, in Colorado, comforts victims of theater shootings

Aurora begins to heal as details emerge

- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 22, 2012

DENVER — President Obama met Sunday in a Colorado hospital with victims of the movie-theater shooting rampage and their families, saying he offered them comfort that "much of the world is thinking about them."

"As I described to them, I come to them not so much as president as I do as a father and as a husband," Mr. Obama told reporters at the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora. "I confessed to them that words are always inadequate in these kinds of situations, but that my main task … was to let them know that we are thinking about them at this moment and will continue to think about them each and every day."

The president’s visit came two days after a lone gunman killed 12 people and wounded 58 when he opened fire on an audience watching a midnight premiere of the new Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises."

Suspect James Holmes, 24, is in custody and is said not to be cooperating with investigators. His first court appearance is set for Monday.

The investigation, meanwhile, continued Sunday as police were finally able to gain access to reams of evidence in the booby-trapped apartment of Mr. Holmes.

Authorities finished removing boxes of items, including a computer, from Mr. Holmes’ dwelling in north Aurora after dismantling and removing at least 30 homemade bombs rigged to explode with trip wires. If detonated, police said, the explosives likely would have killed anyone who entered the apartment and engulfed the building in flames.

The explosives were taken by a dump truck to a bomb-disposal range about 50 miles east of Aurora, where they were detonated and burned.

The apartment building remained closed Sunday to residents, although those living in the four surrounding buildings were allowed to return to their homes.

"Security of the building is still being maintained because of chemical hazards from the suspect’s apartment," the Aurora Police Department said in a statement. "Residents are being allowed to get personal items. When it is deemed safe, they will be allowed to return home. It is not known when this will occur for certain."

The booby-trapped apartment was another indication of what police described as months of planning behind the suspect’s deadly outburst. Mr. Holmes is thought to have stormed the Century 16 theater wielding two canisters of tear gas and three firearms.

The president praised the community’s first responders and recounted an individual act of heroism that he said he learned of personally — he even said the media hadn’t reported it yet — while speaking to the families of the victims. Mr. Obama said shooting victim Allie Young, 19, was saved by her friend Stephanie Davis, 21, after Ms. Young was shot in the neck.

Mr. Obama said Ms. Davis "had the presence of mind to drop down on the ground with her, pull her out of the aisle, place her fingers over where Allie had been wounded and apply pressure the entire time, while the gunman was still shooting."

"Allie told Stephanie  she needed to run; Stephanie refused to go," the president said. "Instead [she] actually with her other hand called 911 on her cellphone. I don’t know how many people at any age would have the presence of mind that Stephanie did, or the courage that Allie showed."

He praised both young women, saying as "heartbreaking as it is for the families" of the tragedy, "it’s worth us spending most of our time reflecting on young Americans like Allie and Stephanie, because they represent what’s best in us."

Referring to the families who lost loved ones in the attack, Mr. Obama said, "I also had a chance to give folks some hugs, and to shed some tears, but also to share some laughs as they remembered the wonderful lives that these wonderful people represented."

Most of the victims were in their 20s. The youngest was a 6-year-old girl, Veronica Moser-Sullivan, whose mother remains in critical condition with a bullet wound to the neck. The oldest was 51-year-old Gordon Cowden, who attended the movie with his two teenage children, both of whom escaped unharmed.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said Sunday that his chief of staff took a group of young people Saturday night to see "The Dark Knight Rises" in order to make a statement about living in fear in the face of violence.

"The response to terrorism is not to shrink away, but to rise up and face it," Mr. Hickenlooper told David Gregory on NBC’s "Meet the Press." "We’re not going to let this son of a gun win, we’re not."

The president added the visit to his schedule late Saturday, as both he and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney suspended their campaign activities in the battleground state for the time being.

The mass slaying has renewed calls by progressives for stricter gun-control laws, but White House press secretary Jay Carney said Mr. Obama has no plans to push for new legislation.

Mr. Obama, in his comments, didn’t talk about gun legislation specifically but did say, "I hope that over the next several days, next several weeks and next several months, we all reflect on how we can do something about some of the senseless violence that ends up marring this country."

The owner of a firing range, meanwhile, said Mr. Holmes inquired about a membership. But he decided not to let Mr. Holmes in because of the strange, off-putting message on his answering machine.

Glenn Rotkovich, who runs the Lead Valley Range in Byers, Colo., said he instructed his staff to alert him if Mr. Holmes arrived to follow up on his membership request.

"I told my staff … ‘If he shows up, come get me. I need to talk to him before anything else,’" Mr. Rotkovich told Fox News. "I said, ‘I’m not sure about this guy.’ It was kind of bizarre."

Across the street from the Century 16 theater, an Illinois man erected 12 white crosses Sunday with the names of the victims of Friday’s early-morning massacre.

Greg Zanis is no stranger to Colorado: He set up crosses in 1999 to honor those who died in the Columbine High School shooting. Mr. Zanis put up 15 crosses near the high school representing the 13 victims and two gunmen, who committed suicide, but the father of one victim later tore down the last two crosses.

"I’m the guy who put up the Columbine crosses, and I’m back here again," said a tearful Mr. Zanis, who prayed at the crosses with Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan. "This is so hard to be back here."

Mr. Holmes has an 8:30 a.m. Monday court date at Arapahoe County District Court. Police said he has retained an attorney.

A student at the University of Colorado Denver’s neuroscience program, Mr. Holmes spent months obtaining four firearms and 6,000 rounds of ammunition through local gun shops and the Internet, according to Aurora police.

A federal law-enforcement official told the Associated Press that the attacker’s semiautomatic assault rifle jammed during his rampage, which likely saved some lives when he had to switch to a less-powerful weapon.

Police said he was in the process of withdrawing from the university program at the time of the rampage. He was taken into custody without incident in the parking lot behind the theater minutes after police arrived.

Mr. Obama and Mr. Carney made assurances to the families that they would not use Holmes’ name, to avoid giving the alleged killer more publicity, according to Jordan Ghawi, the brother of victim Jessica Ghawi.

Mr. Ghawi tweeted the development on his Twitter account after meeting with the president. Mr. Carney confirmed that he’d agreed not to use the shooter’s name.

⦁ Dave Boyer reported from Washington.

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