Movie Theater Massacre Update: Suspect's Home Booby-trapped
By NBC News' Pete Williams and NBC News staff:
Twelve people were killed and at least 50 others wounded early Friday when a gunman wearing a bulletproof vest opened fire during a midnight premier screening of the latest Batman movie near Denver, authorities and witnesses said.
The apartment of the suspect in custody, named as 24-year-old James Holmes, had been booby-trapped with what police described as sophisticated explosives or flammable material and officers were trying to determine how to defuse the device or devices, Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates said. The area had been evacuated, and police were expected to remain on the scene "for hours or days," he said.
The victims of the cinema shooting were being treated in at least six hospitals included a 6-year-old. The youngest person treated was a 4-month-old baby, who has been released. The oldest reported patient is 45.
Authorities said the gunman had appeared at the front of the theater during the film and released a canister of tear gas. Witnesses told reporters that the gunfire erupted during a shootout scene in "The Dark Knight Rises."
"It was mass chaos," witness Jennifer Seeger told TODAY. The gunman shot the ceiling and then "he threw in the gas can, and then I knew it was real."
"I told my friend, 'We've got to get out of here,' but then he shot people trying to go out the exits," she recalled. She said the shooter made his way up the aisle, shooting as he went, saying nothing.
Oates initially told journalists that 14 people had been killed but the figure was later lowered to 12.
The shooting occurred in the Century 16 Movie Theaters at the Aurora Town Center. Aurora is a suburb less than 10 miles east of downtown Denver.
NBC station KUSA-Denver cited a witness as seeing a black-clad 6-foot-tall man wearing a riot helmet, goggles and bullet-proof vest.
However, many people attended the film dressed in Batman-related costumes.
Witnesses said the gunman entered the theater through an emergency exit door.
The suspect was found in possession of a gas mask, Oates said. Ammunition was found in the suspect's car, police said.
The shooter had three weapons -- an assault-type rifle and two handguns, officials told NBC News. Holmes' car has Tennessee plates but authorities said he lived locally.
Police said there was no evidence of additional suspects.
"We're pretty confident he acted alone," officer Frank Fania told TODAY.
An FBI official told NBC News that the agency was working with local authorities on the investigation, but that there was no early indication of a link to terrorism. Holmes was not on any federal law-enforcement watch lists, authorities told NBC News.
President Barack Obama cut short a campaign visit to Florida to return to Washington ahead of schedule.
He called for reflection after the attack. "There are going to be other days for politics," Obama said during an abbreviated appearance in Fort Myers, where he led a moment of silence on behalf of the victims and their families.
'Get us some damn gas masks'
Police raiding the theater in the hunt for the suspect had to ask for gas masks.
"Get us some damn gas masks for theater 9, we can't get in it," one officer radioed back to emergency dispatch during the operation, according to an excerpt aired on KUSA.
Moviegoers described scenes of chaos and terror inside the movie theater.
Seeger told TODAY there were "a lot of children" in the theater.
"When I ... tried to escape, there was a little girl, 12 or 13, just laying lifeless on the stairs," she said.
"I got terrified. I didn't know what to do, like a deer in the headlights. I jumped into the aisle and curled up into a little ball waiting for him to go away," she told TODAY.
"I have never been more scared then the moments where we were all trapped in the theater, helpless. Unable to get out at all," another moviegoer, Rachel Fedeli, posted on Twitter.
Tanner Coon, who was in the theater with a friend and the friend's 12-year-old brother when the shooter came in, said he told them to "get down" when he heard the gunshots.
The shooter fired off about 20 rounds and there was then a pause and a "period of quietness when everybody started running out," Coon said.
"I slipped on some blood and landed on a lady. I shook her and said we need to go. There was no response so I presume she was dead," Coon said.
Another eyewitness, Alex Milano, told KUSA that he "saw at least four, maybe five people limping, slightly wounded. ... I saw one girl covered in blood.
"I don't know whose little girl that was, but my heart goes out to them. ... A cop came walking through the front door ... holding a little girl in his arms and she wasn't moving, she wasn't moving," the young man, whose voiced cracked as he spoke, told KUSA.
'I thought it was pretty much the end of the world'
Roland Jones, 28, said he first thought the smoke and sounds of gunshots were all part of the film's special effects.
"I thought it was pretty much the end of the world," Roberts told the Denver Post.
Tammi Stevens, who son was inside the cinema when the shooting started, told the Post he saw a man walk into the theater wearing body armor.
"You let your kids go to a late night movie ... you never think something like this would happen," Stevens told the newspaper.
The injured were being transported to several local hospitals, police told NBC.
Natalie Goldstein, of Children's Hospital Colorado, said the facility was treating six patients from the shooting, ranging in age from 6 to 31.
Justin Bentzinger, a house supervisor at the Swedish Medical Center, told NBC News they were treating three patients. Two were in critical condition, the third was in fair condition.
Kalena Wilkinson, a public information officer for Denver Health, said six patients were taken to that hospital, with one in critical condition and the other five in "fair" conditions.
Tracy Weise, of the public relations department at Aurora Medical Center, told NBC News they had treated 15 patients, four of whom have been released. Of those still being treated, four remain in critical condition, Weise said.
Jacque Montgomery, a spokesperson for University of Colorado Hospital, told NBC News that they were treating 20 patients from the shooting.
At least three people had been treated for chemical exposure, KUSA reported.
Hundreds of witnesses who have not been injured have been taken to Gateway High School for a debriefing, local media reported.
Friday's incident was the worst mass shooting in the United States since the 2007 shooting on the Virginia Tech campus, in which 33 people, including the gunman, died.
It was the deadliest mass shooting in Colorado since the Columbine High School massacre on April 20, 1999. 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.
Paris premiere canceled
"The Dark Knight Rises," starring Christian Bale and Anne Hathaway, is the latest in the popular Batman action movie franchise. Theatres around the world began showing it at 12:01 a.m. on Friday.
Warner Bros. canceled the Paris premiere of the film, which was scheduled for Friday evening.
"Warner Bros. and the filmmakers are deeply saddened to learn about this shocking incident. We extend our sincere sympathies to the families and loved ones of the victims at this tragic time," the studio said in a statement.