A masked gunman broke into a Denver cinema and shot dead at least 12 people and wounded 38 others, including children, during a late-night screening of the new Batman movie.
James Holmes, 24, entered the mall in Aurora, Colorado dressed in black and wearing a gas mask and bullet-proof vest and set off a smoke bomb at the showing of The Dark Knight Rises before opening fire.
Aurora police said that 12 people died in the horrific attack, and the bodies of 10 victims are still inside the theatre. The youngest victim is believed to be just 12 years old.
Scores of injured victims are now fighting for their lives; the youngest is just three months old, and is believed to have been shot at blank point range in the back.
Witnesses said that the man burst through the emergency exit at the front of the auditorium 30 minutes into the screening. He began firing into the audience with a rifle and two handguns as he made his way up the stairs, picking his victims at random.
The unnamed man was arrested carrying two firearms without incident in a car park nearby and told the police that explosives were stored at his home. He remains in police custody.
‘He did not resist. He did not put up a fight,’ Frank Fania, a police spokesman, told CNN.
Police chief Dan Oates told reporters that an apartment block in the north of Aurora had been evacuated as a consequence of the man’s claims his apartment had explosives.
Around 6.40 a.m. local time, there were a reports of an explosion at the apartment.
Police said they suspect that another handgun was found left in the cinema but there was no evidence of any other attackers. He added there was no immediate knowledge of the motive.
‘Witnesses tell us he released some sort of canister. They heard a hissing sound and some gas emerged and the gunman opened fire,’ Mr Oates said at a news conference.
The incident at the Century 16 cinema complex began at 00:30 local time – 30 minutes into the start of the screening.
The preview trailers had just finished when a gas canister was thrown across in front of the screen and exploded in the auditorium.
A witness said: ‘We heard anywhere from 10 to 20 shots and little explosions going on. Shortly after that we heard people screaming.
‘Then they came on PA system and said everyone needed to get out. As soon as we got out, there were people running around and screaming.’
Witnesses said that the shooting was so brutal that bullets went through the walls into the next door screen.
Police received the first emergency call at 00.39 a.m. local time.
Police, ambulances and emergency crews swarmed on the scene after frantic calls started flooding in to authorities, officials said.
Cell phone video taken at the cinema by a witness showed crowds of people screaming and fleeing the building, with some with blood on their clothes.
One witness reported seeing a police officer carrying a girl who looked to be nine with gunshot wound to her back. ‘She wasn’t moving,’ the witness said.
Several others have said there were children at the screening and the youngest victim reported was a three-month-old baby. A six-year-old is also being treated.
Local reporter Justin Jones said: ‘The attacker shot a baby at point blank range.’
Another eyewitness, James Cameron, added that the baby girl was shot in the back.
Local hospitals have been alerted to a ‘mass casualty incident’ and police officers are taking people to hospital themselves, not waiting for ambulances.
Hayden Miller said that he was inside Theatre 16 and heard several shots. He said at first he thought it was part of a louder movie next door, but then he saw ‘people hunched over leaving theatre.’
The FBI say they are working with local police. They say it is still early in the investigation, but that there is no terrorism link so far. The car park of the mall remains closed off.
Police spokeswoman Cassidee Carlson said: ‘The scene is still very active and we have little information for release at this time.’
Hospitals reported shrapnel injuries and Denver University hospital reported it was treating three people for ‘chemical exposure’.
With ambulances rushing to the hospitals, some chose to get to the nearest medical facility by foot.
Brenda Stuart, of 850 KOA Radio, said: ‘Police are taking people to hospital in their own cars, not waiting for ambulances to arrive. There were chaotic scenes as people desperately tried to flee.’
According to local reports the gunman carried out the shooting because the new Batman movie was sold out. The suspect had no history with police apart from a traffic ticket, police reported.
President Obama made a statement in the early hours of this morning to pass on his condolences to the families and to offer his support to Aurora.
‘Michelle and I are shocked and saddened by the horrific and tragic shooting in Colorado,’ he said.
‘Federal and local law enforcement are still responding, and my Administration will do everything that we can to support the people of Aurora in this extraordinarily difficult time.
‘We are committed to bringing whoever was responsible to justice, ensuring the safety of our people, and caring for those who have been wounded.
‘As we do when confronted by moments of darkness and challenge, we must now come together as one American family.
‘All of us must have the people of Aurora in our thoughts and prayers as they confront the loss of family, friends, and neighbors, and we must stand together with them in the challenging hours and days to come.’
Mitt Romney added: ‘Ann and I are deeply saddened by the news of the senseless violence that took the lives of 15 people in Colorado and injured dozens more.
‘We are praying for the families and loved ones of the victims during this time of deep shock and immense grief. We expect that the person responsible for this terrible crime will be quickly brought to justice.’
Aurora is located on the outskirts of Denver, about 10 miles southeast of downtown.
It is the worst mass shooting in Colorado since the Columbine High School massacre on April 20, 1999. Fifteen died, including the shooters.
Students Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, opened fire at the school in the Denver suburb of Littleton, about 15 miles west of Aurora, killing 12 classmates and a teacher and wounding 26 others before killing themselves in the school’s library.
by Sel Hurst