The Colorado gunman carried two pistols, a rifle and a shotgun into the midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises.” NBC News’ Pete Williams reports.
Updated at 5:45 p.m. ET: A graduate student with dyed red or orange hair who told police he was the Joker opened fire in a theater showing the premiere of the latest Batman movie near Denver early Friday, killing 12 people and wounding 59 others, many of them seriously, a law enforcement official told NBC News.
University of Colorado
James Holmes, identified as the suspect in the Colorado shootings, in a photo from the University of Colorado.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed reports that the suspect, identified as James Eagan Holmes, 24, told police in Aurora, Colo., that he was the Joker, a reference to one of the most prominent villains in the Batman canon.
The source told NBC News that the suspect had dyed his hair red or orange, which isn’t typically associated with the green-haired Joker character. The character also doesn’t appear in the newest movie, “The Dark Knight Rises,” one of the most eagerly awaited films of the year.
Holmes also told police that his apartment had been booby-trapped. When investigators arrived, they peered in through a window from a hook-and-ladder truck and discovered numerous bottles containing an unknown liquid, fire officials said. The bottles were connected to wires.
“It’s nothing I’ve ever seen before,” said Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates, who said the area was evacuated and that police were expected to remain on the scene “for hours or days.”
Authorities still hadn’t entered the apartment late Friday afternoon. They were examining photographs of the scene to figure out how to deal with the materials.
Holmes, a graduate student from San Diego who was in the process of withdrawing from the neuroscience program at University of Colorado-Denver medical school, put up no resistance when he was arrested in a parking lot at the theater, police said. He retained legal counsel and wasn’t answering investigators’ questions, police said.
Witnesses describe what they saw at the theater in Aurora, Colo.
“We are confident he acted alone,” Oates said of Holmes, who was scheduled to appear in court Monday morning to face unspecified charges. Authorities refused to speculate on his possible motive.
The victims, who were being treated in six hospitals, included a 6-year-old child. A 4-month-old baby also was treated and released. The oldest reported patient was 45.
One of those killed was Jessica Ghawi, a sportswriter who survived a June 2 mass shooting at a mall in Toronto in which two people were killed and seven others were injured. Ghawi blogged under the name Jessica Redfield.
Defense officials told NBC News that a sailor at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora was missing and presumed to have been killed. A second sailor and two airmen from Buckley were also shot. Their identities and conditions weren’t available.
Authorities said the gunman appeared at the front of the theater at 12:39 a.m., about 20 minutes into the film, and released two canisters of gas. Witnesses told reporters that the gunfire erupted during a shootout scene. Authorities responded within a minute and a half, Oates said.
“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.”
Witnesses said the gunman entered the Century 16 Movie Theaters at Aurora Town Center through an emergency exit door. But a federal law enforcement official told The Associated Press that the suspect bought a ticket and went in as part of the crowd. He is believed to have propped open an exit door as the movie was playing, the official said.
Aurora is a suburb less than 10 miles east of downtown Denver and just 15 miles northeast of Littleton, scene what had been the worst mass shooting in Colorado: the Columbine High School massacre on April 20, 1999, when two gunmen killed 12 fellow students and a teacher and wounded 26 other people before killing themselves.
The suspect was found in possession of a helmet, a gas mask, a tactical vest, throat and groin protectors and black tactical gloves, authorities said.
Oates said the gunman had four weapons: two 40-caliber Glock handguns, a Remington 870 single-barrel pump shotgun and a Smith & Wesson AR-15 assault-style rifle. Three of the weapons were found in the suspect’s white Hyundai parked at the back entrance to the theater; one of the handguns was found in the theater.
Law enforcement officials told NBC News that the weapons were legally bought from local stores of two national chains — Gander Mountain Guns and Bass Pro Shop — beginning in May.
Former FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt tells Daily Rundown’s Chuck Todd “this was a pre-planned event.”
Oates didn’t say what kind of magazines were used, but he said “many, many rounds were fired.” Some rounds penetrated an adjoining theater and injured at least one person, he said.
James Yacone, the FBI’s agent in charge in Denver, said there was no early indication of a link to terrorism. Holmes wasn’t on any federal law enforcement watch lists, authorities told NBC News, and Oates said he had no police record beyond a speeding ticket last year.
In his apartment rental application early last year, Holmes described himself as a “quiet and easy-going” student. A pharmacy student who lives in the building, which is reserved for students, faculty and staff of the medical campus, said he kept to himself.
“No one knew him. No one,” the man, who asked to be identified only as “Ben,” told The Denver Post.
The University of California-Riverside confirmed that a man named James Holmes graduated from the university with a degree in neuroscience in 2010. His last known address was in San Diego, it said.
The Poway United School District told NBC News that Holmes attended Westview High School in San Diego, graduating in 2006.
‘Pain and grief … too intense for words’
Gov. John Hickenlooper said at a news conference that “our hearts are broken as we think of the friends and family of the victims of this senseless tragedy.” He called the shootings “the act of an apparently very deranged mind.”
“The pain and grief (are) too intense for words, but we can’t let it keep us from our lives,” Hickenlooper said. “We are going to come back stronger from this, but it is obviously going to be a very long process.”
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.
At a campaign appearance in Bow, N.H., Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney said: “Today is to remember and reach out and remember our blessings in life. Each of us will hold family close and spend a little less time thinking about worries of day and helping those in need of compassion.”
‘We need to go’
Moviegoers described scenes of chaos and terror inside the movie theater.
Tanner Coon, 17, describes seeing flashes of gunfire, which he thought were fireworks, amid the chaos of trying to escape the shooting as he was “trying to calm” his friend’s 12-year-old brother.
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.
At least three people had been treated for chemical exposure, KUSA reported.
Paris premiere canceled
Reviewers of “The Dark Knight Rises,” the third installment of the Batman franchise, have noted its dark, anxiety-fueled themes, which reminded some of the atmosphere in the days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It had been one of the most eagerly awaited films of the year, and theaters around the world began showing it at 12:01 a.m. Friday.
Warner Bros. canceled the Paris premiere, 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,” it said in a statement.
Chris Dodd, chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America, said in a statement:
“We share the shock and sadness of everyone in the motion picture community at the news of this terrible event. We extend our prayers and deepest sympathies to the victims, their loved ones and all those affected by this tragedy.”
F. Brinley Bruton, Kristen Dahlgren, Jay Gray, Charles Greene, Garrett Haake, Ian Johnston, Zoya Khan, Jim Miklaszewski, Daniel Strieff, Shawna Thomas, David Wyllie and Edgar Zuniga of NBC News and NBC stations KUSA of Denver and KNSD of San Diego contributed to this report.
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