Date: July 21 2012
AT LEAST 12 people were killed and 50 injured when a gunman opened fire inside a suburban American movie theatre.
The violent and chaotic scene erupted about 12.30am (5.30pm Melbourne time) yesterday when the masked gunman started shooting as people watched the premiere of the third instalment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise.
The gunman stood at the front of one of the Century 16 theatres at the Aurora Mall, near Denver, as the movie was playing, Aurora police chief Dan Oates said.
The man apparently used tear gas during the incident and also shot a baby. He is thought to have been wearing armour and a gas mask — with some reports suggesting he was dressed as Batman villain Bane from the movie.
‘‘Witnesses tell us he released some sort of canister. They heard a hissing sound and some gas emerged and the gunman opened fire,’’ Mr Oates said.
Police, ambulances and emergency crews swarmed to the scene after frantic calls started flooding the emergency switchboard, officials said.
Some of the wounded were children, with the youngest a three-month-old baby. Victims were being treated for chemical exposure.
The gunman, identified by television networks as 24-year-old James Holmes, was arrested shortly after the midnight attack near a car outside the multiplex cinema.
FBI spokesman Jason Pack said there was no indication in the investigation so far of any connection to terror groups.
President Barack Obama said he was saddened by the ‘‘horrific and tragic shooting’’, adding: ‘‘As we do when confronted by moments of darkness and challenge, we must now come together as one American family.’’
It was the worst mass shooting in the US since the 2007 shooting on the Virginia Tech campus and the worst in Colorado since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, where two students opened fire and killed 12 classmates and a teacher.
According to Denver reporter Justin Joseph of the KDVR television station, the man stood up brandishing a gun as soon as Batman appeared on screen.
Moviegoers apparently initially thought it was part of the promotion of the film. ‘‘As people ran this gunman, or gunmen, opened fire hitting people,’’ British newspaper The Daily Telegraph quoted him as saying.
‘‘Police sources have told us there are 10 bodies inside the cinema, most of them children or teenagers, and one baby.
‘‘A baby was shot at point blank range. The family were gathered around screaming.
‘‘There were police on scene when it happened and [the gunman] was captured quickly.
‘‘A gas mask, rifle, handgun, at least one additional weapon [were] found.’’
The suspect was taken into custody.
Mr Oates said there was no evidence of any other attackers. There was also no immediate word of any motive.
The suspect spoke of ‘‘possible explosives in his residence. We are dealing with that potential threat,’’ Mr Oates said, without providing details on where that was.
He said police also checked for explosives in the parking lot and theatre and secured those areas.
Witness Hayden Miller told the KUSA-TV station that he was inside Theatre 16 and heard several shots.
‘‘Like little explosions going on and shortly after that we heard people screaming,’’ he said. Mr Miller said at first he thought it was part of a louder movie next door. But then he saw ‘‘people hunched over leaving [the] theatre’’.
Two people in critical condition were rushed to the nearby Swedish Medical Centre, spokeswoman Nicole Williams said.
She said emergency crews told her staff to prepare for several more patients from the shooting scene. ‘‘We’re on standby to receive,’’ she said.
Aurora is located on the south-eastern outskirts of Denver and is home to a large Defence Department satellite intelligence operation.
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