2012 Aurora shooting
|2012 Aurora shooting|
Century 16 at Town Center at Aurora
Bottom left: Map of Colorado with Aurora marked
Top: Map of central Aurora
Bottom right: Town Center at Aurora and the location of the Century 16 multiplex
|Location||14300 E. Alameda Avenue,
Aurora, Colorado, U.S.
|Date||July 20, 2012
12:38 a.m. – 12:45 a.m. (MDT)
|70 (58 from gunfire, 4 from tear gas, 8 from fleeing accidents)|
|James Eagan Holmes (in custody)|
On July 20, 2012, a mass shooting occurred inside of a Century movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, during a midnight screening of the film The Dark Knight Rises. A gunman, dressed in tactical clothing, set off tear gas grenades and shot into the audience with multiple firearms, killing 12 people and injuring 70 others. The sole suspect, James Eagan Holmes, was arrested outside the cinema minutes later. It was the deadliest shooting in Colorado since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999.
The shooting occurred in theater 9 at the Century 16 multiplex (operated by Cinemark), located at the Town Center at Aurora shopping mall at 14300 E. Alameda Avenue. Police said the shooter bought a ticket, entered the theater, and sat in the front row; about 20 minutes into the film, he left the building through an emergency exit door, which he propped open with a plastic tablecloth holder.
He allegedly then went to his car, which was parked near the exit door, changed into protective clothing, and retrieved his guns. About 30 minutes into the film, police say, around 12:30 am, he reentered the theater through the exit door. He was dressed in black and wore a gas mask, a load-bearing vest (not to be confused with a bulletproof vest), a ballistic helmet, bullet-resistant leggings, a bullet-resistant throat protector, a groin protector and tactical gloves. He was wearing an assault vest purchased from TacticalGear.com. Initially, few in the audience considered the masked figure a threat. He appeared to be wearing a costume, like other audience members who had dressed up for the screening. Some believed that the gunman was playing a prank, while others thought that he was part of a special effects installation set up for the film's premiere as a publicity stunt by the studio or theater management.
It was also said that the gunman threw two canisters emitting a gas or smoke, partially obscuring the audience members' vision, making their throats and skin itch, and causing eye irritation. He then fired a 12-gauge Remington 870 Express Tactical shotgun, first at the ceiling and then at the audience. He also fired a Smith & Wesson M&P15 semi-automatic rifle with a 100-round drum magazine, which malfunctioned after reportedly firing about 45 rounds. Finally, he fired a Glock 22 40-caliber handgun. He shot first to the back of the room, and then toward people in the aisles. A bullet passed through the wall and hit three people in the adjacent theater 8, which was screening the same film. Witnesses said the multiplex's fire alarm system began sounding soon after the attack began and staff told people in theater 8 to evacuate. One witness said that she was hesitant to leave because someone yelled that there was someone shooting in the lobby and that they should not leave.
The first phone calls to emergency services via 9-1-1 were made at 12:39 am. Police arrived within 90 seconds and found at least three .40-caliber handgun magazines, a shotgun and a large drum magazine on the floor of the theater. Some people reported the shooting via tweets or text messaging rather than calling the police. Sgt. Stephen Redfearn, one of the first police officers on the scene, decided not to wait for ambulances and sent victims to area hospitals in squad cars.
About 12:45 am, police apprehended Holmes behind the cinema, next to his car, without resistance. He was initially mistaken as another police officer because of the tactical clothing he was wearing. According to two federal officials, he had dyed his hair red and called himself "the Joker", although authorities later declined to confirm this. Three days later, at his first court appearance in Centennial, Colorado, Holmes had reddish-orange hair. The officers found several firearms in the theater and inside the car, including another Glock 22 handgun. Following his arrest, he was initially jailed at Arapahoe County Detention Center, under suicide watch. The police interviewed more than 200 witnesses. Investigators say that the shooter acted alone and was not part of a larger group or terrorist organization.
When apprehended, Holmes told the police that he had booby-trapped his apartment with explosive devices before heading to the movie theater. Police then evacuated five buildings surrounding his Aurora residence, about 5 miles (8 km) north of the cinema. The apartment complex is limited to University of Colorado Medical Center students, patients, and employees. One day after the shooting, officials disarmed an explosive device wired to the apartment's front entrance, allowing a remotely controlled robot to enter and disable other explosives. The apartment held more than 30 homemade grenades, wired to a control box in the kitchen, and 10 gallons of gasoline.
Neighbors reported loud music from the apartment around midnight on the night of the massacre, and one went to his door to tell him she was calling the police; she stated that the door seemed to be unlocked, but she chose not to open it. A law enforcement official said that a Batman mask was found inside the apartment. On July 23, police finished collecting evidence from the apartment. Two days later, residents were allowed to return to the four surrounding buildings, and six days later, residents were allowed to move back into the formerly booby-trapped building.
Eighty-two people were shot or otherwise wounded, reported by mainstream news as the most victims of any mass shooting in United States history. Four people's eyes were irritated by the tear gas grenades, and eight others injured themselves while fleeing the theater. The massacre was the deadliest shooting in Colorado since the Columbine High School massacre on April 20, 1999.
Twelve people were killed in the shooting. Ten died at the scene and two more in local hospitals. Three of the victims (Jonathan Blunk, Matt McQuinn, and Alexander Teves) died to protect their girlfriends. Those killed were:
The youngest person injured during the shooting was a four-month-old boy who was not shot. Ashley Moser, Veronica Moser-Sullivan's mother, was critically injured in the shooting and miscarried a week after the attack.
The injured were treated at Children's Hospital Colorado, Denver Health Medical Center, The Medical Center of Aurora, Parker Adventist Hospital, Rose Medical Center, Swedish Hospital, and University Hospital. On July 25, three of the five hospitals treating victims announced that they would limit medical bills or forgive them entirely.
The Community First Foundation collected more than $5 million for a fund for victims and their families. In September, victims and their families received surveys asking about their preferences for how collected funds should be distributed, either by dividing it equally among victims or through a needs-assessment process.
On November 16, 2012, the Aurora Victim Relief Fund announced each claimant will receive $220,000.
On July 30, Colorado prosecutors filed formal charges against Holmes that included 24 counts of first degree murder and 116 counts of attempted murder. Two charges were filed for each victim to expand the opportunities for prosecutors to obtain convictions. Colorado State District Court Judge William B. Sylvester, who is the trial judge overseeing the case, has placed a gag order on lawyers and law enforcement, sealing the court file and barring the University of Colorado from releasing public records relating to Holmes' year at the school. Media organizations are challenging the sealing of the court file.
On August 9, Holmes' attorneys said he is mentally ill and they needed more time to assess the nature of his illness. The disclosure was made at a court hearing in Centennial, Colorado, where news media organizations asked a judge to unseal court documents in the case. Prosecutors alleged on August 24, 2012, that Holmes told a classmate that he wanted to kill people four months before the shooting.
A judge ruled on August 30 that a notebook written by Holmes, in which he allegedly described a violent attack, was covered by physician–patient privilege, as he had discussed it with his psychiatrist. This made it inadmissible as evidence unless Holmes' mental health became an issue in the case. Prosecutors eventually dropped their request to gain access to the notebook on September 20, 2012. Due to suicide attempts made by Holmes, Judge Sylvester agreed to postpone proceedings until December 2012.
On January 2, 2013, prosecutors and defense attorneys in the case returned to court in advance of the crucial preliminary hearing- the first officially sanctioned look for the people at the evidence, due to the gag order. The hearing was scheduled to begin on January 7. At the hearing, prosecutors offered their case as to why the trial should proceed, and defense lawyers argued that it should not. At the conclusion of the hearing, Judge Sylvester decided there was enough relevant, admissible evidence to proceed to a trial.[clarification needed]
Also on January 7, lawyers for both sides argued whether to admit four unspecified prescription bottles and immunization records investigators had seized from Holmes' apartment when they searched it in July 2012, considering doctor-patient confidentiality laws. The judge ruled in October that prosecutors could keep the items.
On March 27, Holmes' lawyers offered a guilty plea in exchange for prosecutors not seeking the death penalty. On April 1, the prosecution announced it had declined the offer. Arapahoe County district attorney George Brauchler said "It's my determination and my intention that in this case for James Eagan Holmes justice is death."
On February 10, 2014, the presiding Arapahoe County District Court Judge, Carlos Samour, denied the last of the defense's motions to keep evidence from trial. Jurors may hear about evidence found in Holmes computers through disputed warrants and his illegally obtained credit union records. The trial, originally set for February 2014, is on hold while Judge Samour decides whether Holmes, who pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, should undergo a second psychiatric evaluation.
The trial has been rescheduled to start on December 8, 2014.
Responses to the shooting
The evening after the shooting, a candlelight vigil was held at the site in Colorado. President Barack Obama ordered flags at government buildings flown at half-staff, in tribute to the victims, until July 25. Both Obama's and Mitt Romney's campaigns temporarily suspended television advertising in Colorado for the 2012 presidential election. On July 22, President Obama met with victims and local and state officials and gave a nationally televised speech from Aurora. Many world leaders sent their condolences, including Queen Elizabeth II, French President François Hollande, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Pope Benedict XVI.
Warner Bros., the distributor of The Dark Knight Rises, stated that it was deeply saddened by the shooting. The studio canceled the film's gala premieres in Paris, Mexico, and Japan, scaled down its marketing campaign in Finland, and decided not to report box office figures for the movie until July 23. Some television advertisements for the film were also canceled. Other major film studios joined Warner Bros. in withholding early box office numbers on July 21. It was reported that Warner Bros. would be making a "substantial" donation to Colorado's Community First Foundation to benefit victims of the shooting.
Christopher Nolan, the film's director, spoke on behalf of his cast and crew and called the event "savage" and "devastating." Christian Bale, who plays Batman in the film series, privately visited victims on July 24. Members of the Colorado Rockies baseball team also visited victims. Members of the Denver Broncos also called and/or visited individuals at the hospitals.
Warner Bros. instructed cinemas to stop screening a trailer for the film Gangster Squad, which preceded The Dark Knight Rises screenings in some cities (though not in Aurora), because it contained a scene involving the main characters shooting at a movie theater audience with machine guns. The film's release date was rescheduled to January 2013, and the theater scene was replaced by a new sequence in a different setting.
In the wake of the shooting, DC Comics delayed the release of Batman Incorporated #3, which includes a scene in which a female Leviathan agent brandishes a handgun in a classroom full of children while disguised as a schoolteacher. Additionally, it was reported that Warner Bros. Animation would edit the upcoming Cartoon Network series Beware the Batman to make the firearms look less realistic.
Cinemark agreed to pay any funeral expenses incurred by the deceased victims' families not covered by the Crime Victims' Compensation Fund. Cinemark closed the entire Century Aurora 16 multiplex in the wake of the shooting but reopened January 17, 2013 with a 40-minute ceremony led by Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan.
Soon after the shooting, police departments and cinemas across the United States and around the world increased security for fear of copycat incidents. In New York City, police officers were deployed to theaters screening the new film.
The National Association of Theatre Owners distributed checklists from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to its members and said in a July 21 statement that members were "working closely with local law enforcement agencies and reviewing security procedures." AMC Theatres announced that it would "not allow any guests into our theatres in costumes that make other guests feel uncomfortable and we will not permit face-covering masks or fake weapons inside our buildings." Security Director News raised the possibility in a July 23 article that "the massacre could be a Virginia Tech for movie theaters, causing security to become a bigger part of the conversation and more stringent security procedures to be adopted at theaters across the country."
In the aftermath of the shooting, several legal experts said that it would be extremely difficult for victims and their families to pursue claims for civil liability against the theater or others.
Three victims sued Cinemark in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado on September 21, 2012 for the company's alleged negligence in failing to provide adequate safety and security measures. Their attorneys released the statement "Readily available security procedures, security equipment and security personnel would likely have prevented or deterred the gunman from accomplishing his planned assault on the theater's patrons." In response, Cinemark's representation filed a motion to dismiss on September 27, 2012 on the grounds that there was no liability under Colorado law for failure to prevent an unforeseeable criminal act. Cinemark's motion quoted extensively from the landmark California appellate opinion that held McDonald's had no duty of care to prevent the 1984 San Ysidro McDonald's massacre. On October 30, 2012, the court hearing the criminal case against Holmes denied a motion by some of the survivors that would have let them access sealed evidence for review in their civil action against the theater chain. On January 24, 2013, a federal magistrate judge issued a recommendation that most of the claims be thrown out, as they were not allowable under Colorado law, although he also said that claims alleging violations of the Colorado Premises Liability Act could proceed.
On January 14, 2013, Chantel Blunk, widow of victim Jonathan Blunk, filed a lawsuit against the University of Colorado in federal court. She alleged that a school psychiatrist could have prevented the slaughter by having Holmes detained after he admitted he "fantasized about killing a lot of people." This type of lawsuit had been anticipated in an August 2012 article co-authored by bioethicist Arthur Caplan which discussed the applicability of the landmark California Supreme Court decision in Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California (1976) to the facts of the Aurora shooting.
In the days following the attack, several people around the U.S. were arrested for threats and suspicious activities at or near screenings of The Dark Knight Rises.
- On July 22 in Norwalk, California, a man at a The Dark Knight Rises screening who yelled, "Does anyone have a gun?" and "I should go off like in Colorado" was arrested for making criminal threats.
- On July 22 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a man faced criminal charges for being involved in a fight in a cinema restroom. During the fight, a moviegoer shouted "Gun!", causing panic inside the theater showing The Dark Knight Rises.
- On July 23 in San Jose, California, someone threw a package into a theater showing The Dark Knight Rises and reportedly yelled that it was a bomb, leading to an evacuation.
- On July 23 in Sierra Vista, Arizona, a moviegoer's confrontation with an intoxicated man with a backpack at a The Dark Knight Rises screening led to "mass hysteria" and 50 people evacuating the theater.
- On August 4 in Westlake, Ohio, a man was arrested for carrying several weapons in a satchel into a screening of The Dark Knight Rises. The suspect later received six months imprisonment over the incident.
Sale of guns and gun control debate
Colorado gun sales spiked after the shooting, with the number of background checks for people seeking to purchase a firearm in the state increasing to 2,887, up 43% from the previous week. Gun sales in Washington, Florida, California, and Georgia also increased. The shooting reignited the political debate on gun control, with one issue being the "easy access" Holmes had to semi-automatic rifles and high-capacity magazines, which were banned federally from 1994 to 2004. The results of a survey released on July 30, 2012 by the Pew Research Center suggested that the incident did not change Americans' views on the issue.
- Gun laws in Colorado
- Gun law in the United States
- Death of Chad Oulson
- Harlem Nights movie theater shooting - 1989 Detroit suburban theater shooting that occurred simultaneous to a shooting scene in the film
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Maps of crime scene
- Map of theater, suspect's apartment and hospitals – larger version via Google
- Map of theater, suspect's apartment, and hospitals at The Denver Post
- Map of crime scene at The New York Times
- Aurora Fire Department raw audio, July 20, 2012
- "Aurora Colorado theater shooting: The Big Picture", The Boston Globe. July 23, 2012.