- The Washington Times - Friday, July 20, 2012

AURORA, Colo. — Police moved to complete the grim task of identifying the dead and notifying their families Friday evening in the aftermath of the movie theater massacre that left 12 dead and 58 wounded.

Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates said he met with 70 family members of the victims at 4 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time who were still waiting for word of their missing relatives. An hour later, he said the last of the bodies had been removed from theater nine at the Century 16 at the Town Center of Aurora.

“Hopefully in the next hour we will get a confirmed list of the deceased and will begin the agonizing process of meeting with the families and determining what happened to their loved ones,” Chief Oates said at an evening press conference.

He said that the suspect, James Eagen Holmes, 24, purchased four firearms legally in the last 60 days from local Denver-area gun shops. Police discovered Mr. Holmes shortly after the midnight shooting by his white Hyundai in the theater parking lot with three firearms and one in his car.

Mr. Holmes also bought more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition on the Internet, including more than 3,000 rounds for the AR-15 rifle, 3,000 rounds for the two 40-caliber Glock handguns, 300 rounds for the Remington 12-gauge shotgun, and a 100-round drum magazine. All were purchased legally.

Security at the four Aurora movie theaters now showing “The Dark Knight Rises” has been heightened, with police patrolling the theaters “out of an abundance of caution,” Chief Oates said.

Efforts to gain access to Mr. Holmes’ apartment were shelved for the evening, with plans to resume Saturday, as authorities tried to figure out how to avoid detonating the maze of explosives, chemicals and trip wires. The three-story building in north Aurora and four others have been evacuated, with the residents staying at nearby Central High School.

Of the 58 people who were injured, 30 remain in area hospitals and 11 of those are in critical condition. Most but not all of the injured are suffering from gunshot wounds, Chief Oates said.

Gov. John Hickenlooper praised police and emergency workers for their rapid response to the shooting. Less than two minutes after the first of hundreds of 911 calls were received at 12:39 a.m., Aurora police arrived at the theater, with 200 local, state and federal officers ultimately converging on the crime scene.

“We are seeing this community rise up and do the things that great communities do,” Mr. Hickenlooper said.

The governor called the shooting “an act that defies description,” and referred to the suspect as “clearly disturbed.”

He said President Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano have been in contact with him to offer their assistance.

“The whole country recognizes this is something we don’t accept, we can’t explain, but we’re not going to accept this. We’re going to push back,” Mr. Hickenlooper said.

Several organizations held vigils for the victims Friday night. The only victim identified by name Friday was Jessica Ghawi, who moved last year to Denver from Austin to seek a career in sportscasting.

Mr. Holmes moved to Colorado after graduating from the University of California at Riverside, where he earned a bachelor’s degree with honors in neuroscience. He entered the University of Colorado’s neuroscience graduate program in order to earn his doctorate, but had recently moved to withdraw from the program of his own volition, Chief Oates said.

“Neighbors report to us that he lives alone and kept to himself,” Chief Oates said.

CNN-TV reported that Mr. Holmes had dyed his hair red in order to look like the Joker from the previous “Dark Knight” movie, but Mr. Oates would not confirm the report. He also declined to confirm reports about how Mr. Holmes was able to enter a theater door that should have been locked.

“The most important thing is justice for these victims, and justice will occur in a courtroom,” Chief Oates said.

Mr. Holmes, who has obtained an attorney, will appear at 8:30 a.m. Monday for an initial hearing in Arapahoe County District Court.

Police said the suspect entered the theater through an exit door dressed in full ballistics gear: ballistics helmet, tactical ballistic vest, ballistic leggings, throat protector, groin protector and black tactical gloves.

“We are not speculating on motive,” Chief Oates said, adding that police believed Mr. Holmes acted alone.

Prior to Friday, Mr. Holmes’ only previous run-in with Aurora police was a speeding ticket he received in October 2011.

Those caught in the crossfire were young, ranging in age from six to 31. A three-month-old baby was examined and released from one of a half-dozen area hospitals treating the victims, including Swedish Medical Center, Denver Health Medical Center, Aurora Medical Center, Children’s Hospital, Parker Adventist Hospital and University Hospital.

Hundreds of uninjured witnesses were transported by bus to nearby Gateway High School in Aurora, where they were questioned by authorities.

The shooting brought back painful memories of another Colorado massacre, the 1999 Columbine High School tragedy, in which two gunmen killed 13 before committing suicide. Columbine is located in Littleton on the west side of Denver, about 20 miles from Aurora, which lies just east of Denver.

Hayden Miller, who was watching the movie in another theater at the complex, told KUSA-TV in Denver that he heard 10 to 20 gunshots and the detonation of small explosives.

“After that, somebody pulled the fire alarm, and a guy over the PA system told everyone to evacuate,” Mr. Miller said. “They told us to get out through the outside exit, not the theater exit, and as soon as that happened we heard screaming.”

Mr. Miller said friends who also attended the midnight showing told him that the gunman moved from Theater 9 to Theater 8 to search for stragglers.

“It was chaotic. It was like something you’d see in a movie,” said Mr. Miller, who was in Theater 16. “It was surreal. Nobody really believed what was happening.”

The theater in this town of 332,000 just east of Denver was showing “The Dark Knight Rises” on four screens. Midnight showings throughout the nation were sold out in anticipation of the film, the third of the “Dark Knight” trilogy starring Christian Bale.

D.J. Tatum, who was in theater eight, told KUSA-TV that he saw “gas and sparks and what sounded like really strong fireworks.”

Several theatergoers said they initially thought the noise, smoke and commotion were part of the show.

“It was a horrific site outside,” said Donovan Tate, who saw the movie with his girlfriend when the shots rang out. “You saw people with blood all over their clothes, people had been shot in different body parts, the back, the leg, the thigh … It was crazy.”

This story is based in part on wire service reports.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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