AURORA, Colo. (July 20, 2012) — President Barack Obama has ordered flags to be flown at half-staff at the White House and at all public buildings in response to this morning’s movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo.
A gunman wearing a gas mask and black clothing open fire this morning at a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises,” the latest Batman movie, killing at least 12 people and injuring nearly 60. It was one of the deadliest mass shootings in recent U.S. history.
Sources say the gunman purchased a ticket for the movie, then exited via the emergency door, propping it open. Fifteen minutes into the film, he entered the theater, released a canister filled with gas and began firing a rifle several times into the audience.
Some moviegoers said at first, they thought the shooting was a publicity stunt or part of the movie.
The suspected gunman, James Holmes — a 24-year-old graduate student in neuroscience at the University of Colorado-Denver — was found near a vehicle outside the movie theater when police and emergency crews arrived.
Cinemark, which operates the Aurora theater and has seven locations in Kentucky — including three in Lexington— issued a statement saying the company’s “thoughts and prayers and focus are on the family, victims, and employees in Aurora, Colo.,” according to CNN.
“We’re also very grateful for the quick response of the police department and emergency response team, which has undoubtedly saved a lot of lives by their quick response,” said Cinemark Chief Executive Timothy Warner. “At this time we really don’t have a lot more facts or information than is out there in the public press. As we get more information we promise you additional press statements, but right now we’re focused in our concerns on the victims, their families and employees.”
Around the U.S., police and some movie theaters stepped up security for daytime showings of the movie, though many fans waiting in line said they were not worried about their safety.
Presidential campaigns suspended
Obama and Mitt Romney canceled campaign events today in response to the tragedy,
The president spoke about the shooting this morning in Fort Myers, Fla., where he had been campaigning.
“ …We may never understand what leads anybody to terrorize their fellow human beings like this. Such violence, such evil is senseless. It’s beyond reason,” he said. “But while we will never know fully what causes somebody to take the life of another, we do know what makes life worth living. The people we lost in Aurora loved and they were loved. They were mothers and fathers; they were husbands and wives; sisters and brothers; sons and daughters, friends and neighbors. They had hopes for the future and they had dreams that were not yet fulfilled.”
[pullquote_right]”But while we will never know fully what causes somebody to take the life of another, we do know what makes life worth living. The people we lost in Aurora loved and they were loved. They were mothers and fathers; they were husbands and wives; sisters and brothers; sons and daughters, friends and neighbors. They had hopes for the future and they had dreams that were not yet fulfilled.” — President Barack Obama[/pullquote_right]
The tragedy is a reminder, he said, that life is very fragile.
“And what matters at the end of the day is not the small things, it’s not the trivial things, which so often consume us and our daily lives,” he said. “Ultimately, it’s how we choose to treat one another and how we love one another.”
Obama pledged federal support to the community and law enforcement efforts in connection with the case.
Romney addressed the shooting at a noon event in New Hampshire, saying the response to the tragedy was a reminder of America’s strength.
“Today we feel not only a sense of grief, but perhaps also a sense of helplessness,” he said. “But there is something we can do. We can offer comfort to someone near us who is suffering or heavy laden, and we can mourn with those who mourn in Colorado.”
One of the shooting victims, an 18-year-old man who was shot in the head, leg, arm and chest, told friends he felt as if he’d been “punched in the head” and his “arm … blown off” after he was hit by gunfire in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater Friday morning, according to ABC News. The man has been released from the hospital.
Louis Duran, 18, was sitting toward the front of the theater when he was hit by a spray of bullets. One of his friends remains in intensive care at University Medical of Aurora, ABC News reported.
Police said 71 people in all were shot.
Some of the victims were treated for chemical exposure apparently related to canisters thrown by the gunman. Those hurt included a 4-month-old baby, who was treated at a hospital and released, according to the Associated Press.
A witness, Spenser Sherman, told “CBS This Morning” that she saw the emergency exit door open and a tear gas thrown in. “Then it was a blur,” she said. “Then I heard a couple gunshots.”
“I thought it was part of the movie, like a fun little prank — that it would be over in a few seconds. It obviously wasn’t,” she said.
No ties to terrorist groups
The gunman wore a gas mask, a ballistic helmet and vest as well as leg, groin and throat protectors, said Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates. The gunman also had an AR-15 military-style, semi-automatic rifle, a shotgun and two pistols.
Authorities have offered no motive for the attack, and said there was no indication of ties to any terrorist groups.
Oates said Holmes told officers after being taken into custody that there may be explosives in his apartment.
FBI agents and police officers used a hook-and-ladder fire truck to reach the gunman’s apartment. They put a camera at the end of a 12-foot pole inside the apartment and discovered the unit was booby-trapped, the AP reported.
Five buildings were evacuated as police tried figure how to disarm the flammable and explosive material.
It was the deadliest shooting in Colorado since the Columbine High School massacre on April 20, 1999, when two students opened fire in the Denver suburb of Littleton, killing 12 classmates and a teacher and wounding 26 others before killing themselves. Columbine High is about 12 miles from the theater.