A Colorado suburb shocked and saddened by a deadly shooting spree at a midnight unveiling of the latest Batman movie grieved for the victims while authorities sought a motive and a safe way to reach clues inside the suspect’s apartment, still apparently rigged with an elaborate booby-trap.
Authorities said that four weapons the attacker used in his killing spree at the packed theater near Denver were purchased by the suspect from retail gun stores in Colorado in the past two months.
Police grimly went door to door late on Friday with a list of the victims killed in the worst mass shooting in the US in recent years, notifying families who had held out anxious hope that their loved ones had been spared.
Twelve people died and 58 were injured in the attack early on Friday, a few of those not by gunfire, but in the chaos that ensued as the audience tried to flee the smoke-filled theater, authorities said. Among the wounded, 11 were listed in critical condition.
The deceased victims included 23-year-old Micayla Medek, said Anita Busch, the cousin of Medek’s father. The family took the news hard, but knowing her fate after waiting without word brought them some peace, Busch said.
“I hope this evil act, that this evil man doesn’t shake people’s faith in God,” she said.
Besides Medek, relatives confirmed that Alex Sullivan and Jessica Ghawi were among those killed, Sullivan on his 27th birthday.
Hours after the shootings, it remained unclear what drove the suspect, identified as 24-year-old James Holmes, to fire round after round at the unsuspecting audience watching The Dark Knight Rises. Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates said Holmes used a military-style semi-automatic rifle, a shotgun and a pistol that he had bought at local gun stores within the last two months. He had also recently purchased 6,000 rounds of ammunition over the Internet, Oates said.
The suspect’s stellar academic record, apparent shy demeanor and lack of a criminal background made the attack even more difficult to fathom.
It also was not known why the suspect chose a movie theater to stage the assault, or whether he intended some twisted, intended symbolic link to the film itself.
The new Batman movie, the last in the trilogy starring Christian Bale, opened worldwide on Friday with midnight showings in the US. The plot has the villain Bane facing Bale’s Caped Crusader with a nuclear weapon that could destroy all of the fictional city of Gotham.
New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said: “It clearly looks like a deranged individual. He has his hair painted red. He said he was the Joker, obviously the enemy of Batman.”
Oates would not confirm that information, but did say he had spoken to Kelly. The two used to work together in New York. Asked whether Holmes wore makeup to look like the Joker, Oates said: “That to my knowledge is not true.”
Near the entrance to the Aurora theater’s parking lot, a makeshift memorial of 12 candles sat in a row near piles of flowers. Up the hill, about 20 pastors led an emotional vigil for about 350 people, some hugging and crying. A sign read: “7/20. Gone Not Forgotten.”
An emotional Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said earlier on Friday that people would not be defined by the tragedy.
“We are clear that we are going to rise back and lift ourselves above this,” he said.