12 Killed, 59 Wounded After James Holmes Opened Fire During "The Dark Knight Rises"

11:02 PM, Jul 20, 2012   |    comments
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AURORA, CO (KUSA) -- One suspect is in custody after 71 people were shot, 12 of those killed, at the Century 16 Movie Theaters at the Aurora Town Center. Police say out of the 71 victims, 10 died at the theater and two died at area hospitals.

The new Batman movie called "The Dark Knight Rises" was opening at the theater during the shooting.

9NEWS has confirmed Jessica Ghawi, a former intern at the Fan, was one of the victims of the shooting.

Ghawi's brother spoke to 9NEWS just hours after learning of her death.

"My sister had great intuition," Jordan said. "She was actually at the mall shooting in Toronto last month and left three minutes prior because she had a bad feeling. She's dodged some events and listened to her heart, but I want people to remember that heart. Remember the good things she has done. Remember that smile, her possibilities, her perspective, and what she could have done."

NBC News has confirmed through two federal sources the shooting suspect's name is James Eagen Holmes. He is 24 years old.

"The University of Colorado Denver - Aschutz Medical Campus can confirm that Holmes was in the process of withdrawing from the University of Colorado Denver's graduate program in neurosciences," the university released on Friday.

Holmes family in California released the following statement regarding the shooting:

"Our hearts go out to those who were involved in this tragedy and to the families and friends of those involved. We ask that the media respect our privacy during this difficult time. Our family is cooperating with authorities in both San Diego, California and Aurora, Colorado. We are still trying to process this information and we appreciate that people will respect our privacy."

Police say Holmes "appeared" at the front of one of the theaters, threw some type of gas or explosive device and started shooting. Police recovered two handguns, one shotgun and an assault rifle. According to sources, Holmes purchased the guns at three different stores in the past two months. Holmes was also wearing a bulletproof vest, according to federal authorities.

"It was chaotic," one witness told 9NEWS. "We saw people running. We heard screaming from other theaters."

"It was actually during a shootout scene during the movie where this popping started happening," Donovan Tate told 9NEWS. "I thought it was like fireworks or firecrackers like someone playing a prank or joke. Oh yeah, it was surreal," Tate said. "It was horrific site. Once outside, you saw people with blood all over their clothes. I had friends scattered throughout the theater. Some were hit, but none of them were too serious. Another one of my friends we're not too sure about him, but we're praying for him."

"I walked out and to my right, there was a girl shot in her knee - holding onto her mom and crying," another witness said. "I actually went to the back of the building where there were more victims. A guy with his leg blown open ... another guy shot in the foot ... a lady shot in her hand."

Defense officials tell NBC News that two US Air Force reservists and two Navy service member were among those wounded in the overnight shooting spree in Aurora.

Defense officials also tell NBC News that one of the US Navy Service members is missing and presumed dead.

The identities and condition of the four US military service members are unavailable.

"The first thing we saw when we got out of the doors is a girl - [maybe] 13 or 14 years old with a gunshot wound to her chest," Shayla Roeder, who was in theater 8 at the time of the shooting, said. "She had this horrible look in her eyes. That's when we realized I think things were actually real. Every time we walked 10 or 15 steps, we would see someone walk out with blood [all] over them [and] cops following them saying they needed an ambulance."

"When you first see him, you don't know if he's a part of the movie, or a part of the act," Auston Ivey said. "When [the gas canisters] hit the ground, it just started spinning. Being that it went off right next to us, it was hard to breathe. The first thing we immediately did was duck. All we could think about was getting to the door as fast as I could. "There was people limping, saying 'I've been shot, I've been shot.'"

"He pulled out a gun and just started randomly shooting people," Sierra Graves, who was also in theater 9, said. "He was hitting families, and people, just randomly, nobody specific."

9NEWS Reporter Jeremy Jojola interviewed two eyewitnesses who were in the theater when the shooting started.

"I saw a man walk in through the exit," one eyewitness told Jojola. "[He] looked like he had a gas mask on."

The witnesses say he threw two gas canisters into the theater after busting down the door. The witnesses said no one reacted at first - thinking he was a stunt for the movie.

"He looked so calm when he did it," the eyewitness said. "It was like scary. He waited for both the bombs to explode before he did anything. Then, after both of them exploded, he began to shoot."

The witnesses said he - at first - fired into the air and then started shooting towards the people.

"He had no specific target. He just started letting loose," the eyewitness said.

Both witnesses said one of the scariest parts was the shooter didn't say a word.

"Honestly, I thought I was gonna get shot," the eyewitness said. "I thought there was no way I was going to get out of there without getting shot."

Another eyewitness spoke to 9NEWS Reporter Brandon Rittiman about the mass shooting.

"It was a shootout scene," Alex Milano, who was in the movie theater next to the one where the shooting took place, said. "There were guns firing. Then, loud bangs came from the right of the theater. Smoke took over the entire theater and everything, and it was really thick. No one could really see anything."

Milano told Rittiman he and her sister thought the shooter was part of the movie.

"Me and my sister and my friends were wondering what was going on," Milano said. "Then, at that point, I saw something come through the wall. Multiple objects flew through the wall. I saw holes in the wall."

People slowly started to get up out of their seats and evacuate, Milano said.

"People stood up and started checking themselves," Milano said. "A couple of people were walking away, holding areas. I heard moaning like they were in pain. That's when I started to get worried."

Even at that point, Milano said there was mass confusion in the theater.

"We didn't really know something was happening until someone came [in] from the left entrance and told us we shouldn't go outside because there was a guy with a gun out there," Milano said.

Milano said he walked out of the theater and instantly smelled the tear gas bomb in the nearby theater.

"It was very thick, and it was choking me," Milano said. "I couldn't breathe at all. That's when the alarm started to sound, and that's when we knew things were serious. As soon as the alarm sounded, everyone stood up and started to make their way to the exit."

Milano saw people coming out of the theater injured.

"I saw at least four or five people limping, wounded [and] slightly bloody," Milano said. "The most that I saw was a girl who was covered in blood, and she didn't have any wounds on her. It made me think the worst."

Milano says he also saw a little girl who looked extremely injured.

"A cop came walking through the door carrying a little girl in his arms and she wasn't moving. The really messed up part to me was [another witness] told whoever that she was talking to that she saw bullet holes in the little girl's back. I honestly can't think of any person who would intentionally hurt a little girl, so unfortunately, I think she just got caught in the crossfire."

Milano says his sister grabbed his arm and wanted to leave immediately.

"It was terrifying," Milano said. "As the older brother, you tell yourself over and over again, 'Don't lose your mind, don't lose your head. Keep calm and keep stress free so that you can help the ones who can't.' My little sister, unfortunately, was one of those. She was in tears, shaking, gripping as tight as she could to my arm and not letting go. Where I went, she wanted to be close to me. It is the scary thought that runs through your mind that you know you have to do everything you can do keep her safe, and at the same time you are worrying about everyone else."

Holmes, after being captured by police, told authorities he had explosive materials in his apartment. The police went to Holmes' apartment building at East 17th Avenue and Peoria Street in Aurora.

FBI agents and police used a hook and ladder fire truck to reach Holmes' apartment. They put a camera at the end of a 12-foot pole inside the apartment and discovered the unit was booby-trapped. Authorities evacuated five buildings as they tried to figure how to disarm the flammable and explosive material.

"[The suspect] lives on the third floor in the back," Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates said. "We have a whole bunch of bomb techs from a whole bunch of agencies. WE have pictures inside the location. We are trying to determine how to disarm flammable or explosive material that's in there. We could be here for hours. We could be here for days trying to get in there and get whatever evidence there is. The pictures are pretty disturbing. It looks pretty sophisticated in terms of how it's booby-trapped."

Police evacuated the building and surrounding buildings as a precaution.

"This could be a very long wait," Oates said. "We don't know how long we are going to be here."

9NEWS has confirmed Holmes is scheduled to appear in court to face charges Monday at 8:30 a.m.

Nicole Williams, with Swedish Medical Center, says the hospital was alerted to a mass casualty incident at 1:15 a.m. Friday.

Williams says the hospital was told to prepare for at least 20 patients.

"This is what we train for, and you get used to having to handle crazy situations," he said. "But I think all of us are going to have to take some time to sit back and process what we saw tonight because some of those scenes were absolutely tragic."

"This is ridiculous," the eyewitness told Jojola. "We really want to know what was the point of it? There's no sense to it. We have no idea what to make of it. He's shooting little kids, he's shooting adults, he's shooting our friends we went to school with. It's just sad."

Both of the eyewitnesses grew up going to this movie theater.

"It was just a terrible sight," the eyewitness said.

People started to flock to the theater once they learned about the shooting - checking to see if their friends and family were OK.

"We've been saying for a long time, this theater is not the safest theater in Aurora," one witness told 9NEWS Reporter Kevin Torres. "But when we go see movies here - I came to see Men in Black III [the other day] - there were two or three officers up front all the time. How are you supposed to know who's the bad guy and who's the good guy when something like this happens."

The witness said he knew a 12-year-old who was going to see the movie at the theater.

"All I know is the 12-year-old is OK," the witness said. "I'm not sure if he was in the theaters, but we know that he came to see the movie. I know he was taken to Gateway High School."

Corbin Dayton was sitting in the second row of the theater when the shooting started.

"The only image that sticks with me is the guy walking in through the door, throwing a gas can and a gun," Dayton said. "That's the only thing that sticks and replays."

Bev Marquez, a licensed counselor, spoke to 9NEWS regarding how people can start to respond to traumatic events.

"It takes a lot of energy to compose ourselves after this kind of crisis, and sometimes there's this fatigue that sets in, and our raw emotions will come out," Marquez told 9NEWS.

The Simon Mall in Aurora is closed on Friday out of the respect of the victim's family and to help cooperate with the investigation.

The Aurora Town Center is in the 14000 block of East Alameda Avenue in Aurora.

The FBI responded to the shooting to investigate further. Officers and deputies responded from almost every local police and sheriffs' department in the metropolitan area.

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