Colorado Movie Theater Massacre: Facts
As shots fired, people covered in blood ran out of the movie theater and into the safety of the parking lot. The scene outside the Aurora, Colorado movie theater was pure panic as emergency personnel arrived to sort the dead from the wounded.
The Aurora police arrested a man with firearms and a gas mask, 24-year-old James Eagan Holmes, in a parking lot. He now is in custody, facing over 164 charges of murder and attempted murder.
Only minutes before, the suburban Colorado movie theater was packed for the midnight showing of the new Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises.” For many fans, this was the event of the summer. They had their tickets weeks in advance, waited in line and filled the theater. As the opening credits began to roll, moviegoers sensed a gas cloud that made their eyes sting and made it hard to breathe.
As the teargas canisters rolled down the aisles, a man entered the theater, clad in black, with a gas mask on and wearing body armor, carrying assorted firearms including a shotgun and as assault rifle. Some people thought this was a stunt for the premiere of the movie.
The gunman then opened fire on that crowded theater, as patrons took cover under their seats or ran for the exits.
In the adjacent theater, as gunfire played out on screen, actual bullets came through the walls, injuring still more people.
Police and paramedics were quickly on the chaotic scene. Many victims were transported to local hospitals for treatment of gunshot wounds, including a 3-month-old baby and other children. At least six victims were treated at Colorado Children’s Hospital. Harrowing stories emerged as the body count rose, while stories of bravery rose from the destruction with some patrons sacrificing themselves by shielding their loved ones from the hail of bullets.
When the smoke cleared, twelve people had died. Eyewitnesses said that the shooter chose victims at random.
Authorities later found Holmes’ had booby-trapped his apartment with explosives, gas, oil, napalm, bullets, and other incendiaries set to create a “flash-fire” but thankfully they did not go off.
District Attorney George Brauchler alleged in opening statements April 27, 2015, that Holmes meticulously planned this mass shooting to make himself “feel better” after his girlfriend broke with him and he failed out of his selective Ph.D. Neuroscience program at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus. Prosecutors depicted a frighteningly smart killer who knew all the while that what he was doing was immoral and illegal.
Defense attorneys say that Holmes suffers from schizophrenia and was in the grips of a psychotic episode that left him no choice but to follow his delusions. Public Defender Daniel King portrayed Holmes in his opening statements as a smiling child who enjoyed surfing with his family but who also sensed something was wrong with his mind, even at a young age. He said Holmes had suicidal tendencies at the age of 11 and had a strong genetic history of mental illness including his aunt and both his maternal and paternal grandfathers.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty and have rejected a defense offer for life in prison without the possibility of parole. Holmes pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, which under Colorado law means he acknowledges committing the acts but believes he wasn’t responsible because he couldn’t tell right from wrong. If Holmes is convicted of murder, he could be sentenced to execution – which prosecutors want – or to life in prison without the possibility of parole. If he’s found not guilty by reason of insanity, he would be committed indefinitely to the state mental hospital. That means if he were some day declared to be sane, he could be released, although that will be unlikely.
Under Colorado law, the jury will determine whether Holmes was sane or insane. If they find he is guilty, they will decide on the sentence – death, or life without parole.
Trial is underway: Opening statements in the trial to determine Holmes’ sanity began on April 27, 2015.