2012 Aurora, Colorado shooting
On July 20, 2012, a mass shooting occurred inside a Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, during a midnight screening of the film The Dark Knight Rises. Dressed in tactical clothing, James Eagan Holmes set off tear gas grenades and shot into the audience with multiple firearms. Twelve people were killed and seventy others were injured, 58 of them from gunfire. At the time, the attack had the largest number of casualties in one shooting in modern U.S. history, until the Orlando nightclub shooting in 2016 and the Las Vegas shooting in 2017. It was the deadliest shooting in Colorado since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. Holmes was arrested in his car outside the cinema minutes later. Earlier he had rigged his apartment with homemade explosives and incendiary devices, which were defused by the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office Bomb Squad a day after the shooting.
|2012 Aurora, Colorado shooting|
Century 16 at Town Center at Aurora
Bottom left: Map of Colorado with Aurora marked
Top: Map of central Aurora
Bottom right: Town Center at Aurora and the location of the Century 16 multiplex
|Location||14300 East Alameda Avenue,|
Aurora, Colorado, U.S.
|Date||July 20, 2012 |
12:38–12:45 a.m. MDT (UTC−06:00)
|70 (58 from gunfire, 4 from tear gas, 8 from fleeing accidents)|
|Perpetrator||James Eagan Holmes|
The shooting prompted an increase in security at movie theaters across the U.S. that were screening the same film, in fear of copycat crimes. It led to a spike in gun sales in Colorado and political debates about gun control in the United States.
Holmes confessed to the shooting but pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Arapahoe County prosecutors sought the death penalty for Holmes. The trial began on April 27, 2015. On July 16, he was convicted of 24 counts of first-degree murder, 140 counts of attempted first-degree murder, and one count of possessing explosives. On August 7, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. On August 26, he was given twelve life sentences, one for every person he killed; he also received 3,318 years for the attempted murders of those he wounded and for rigging his apartment with explosives.
The shooting occurred in Theater 9 at the Century 16 multiplex (operated by Cinemark), located at the Town Center at Aurora shopping mall at 14300 E. Alameda Avenue. Police said Holmes bought a ticket, entered the theater, and sat in the front row. About 20 minutes into the film, he left theater 9 through an emergency exit door beside the movie screen, with direct access to the lightly used parking area at the back of the complex, while propping the door slightly open with a plastic tablecloth holder. There were about 400 people inside theater 9.
Holmes then went to his car, which was parked near the exit door, changed into protective clothing, and retrieved his guns. About 30 minutes into the movie, police say, around 12:30 a.m., he reentered the theater through the exit door. He was dressed in black and wore a gas mask, a load-bearing vest (not to be confused with a bulletproof vest), a ballistic helmet, bullet-resistant leggings, a bullet-resistant throat protector, a groin protector, and tactical gloves. He was also listening to techno music through a set of headphones so the reactions in the theater could not be heard. Initially, few in the audience considered Holmes to be a threat. According to witnesses, he appeared to be wearing a costume, like other audience members who had dressed up for the screening. Some believed he was playing a prank, while others thought he was part of a special effects installation setup for the film's premiere or a publicity stunt by the studio or theater management.
It was reported that Holmes threw two canisters emitting a gas or smoke, partially obscuring the audience members' vision, making their throats and skin itch, and causing eye irritation. He then fired a 12-gauge Remington 870 Express Tactical shotgun, first at the ceiling and then at the audience. He also fired a Smith & Wesson M&P15 semi-automatic rifle with a 100-round drum magazine, which eventually malfunctioned. Finally, he fired a .40-caliber Glock 22 Gen4 handgun. He shot first to the back of the room, and then toward people in the aisles. A bullet passed through the wall and hit three people in the adjacent theater 8, which was screening the same film. Witnesses said the multiplex's fire alarm system began sounding soon after the attack began and staff told people in Theater 8 to evacuate. One witness said she was hesitant to leave because someone yelled that someone was shooting in the lobby.
Holmes fired 76 shots in the theater: six from the shotgun, 65 from the semi-automatic rifle, and five from the .40-caliber handgun.
The first phone calls to emergency services via 9-1-1 were made at 12:39 a.m. Police arrived within 90 seconds and found three .40-caliber handgun magazines, a shotgun, and a large drum magazine on the floor of the theater. Some people reported the shooting via Twitter or text messaging rather than calling the police; officers were already at the theater by the time that tweets had been sent. Ambulances were hindered by chaos and congestion in the parking lot, and they were unable to reach the back side of the complex where police had pulled the injured out the emergency exit doors of Theatre 9. By then, Sgt. Stephen Redfearn, one of the first police officers who arrived on the scene, sent victims to area hospitals in squad cars.
About 12:45 a.m., police officer Jason Oviatt apprehended Holmes behind the cinema, next to his car, without resistance. He was initially mistaken for another police officer because of the tactical clothing that he was wearing. He was described as being calm and "disconnected" during his arrest. According to two federal officials, Holmes had dyed his hair red and called himself "the Joker", although authorities later declined to confirm this. Three days later, at his first court appearance in Centennial, Colorado, Holmes now had reddish-orange hair. The officers found several firearms in the theater and inside the shooter's car, including another Glock 22 handgun. Holmes was also carrying a first aid kit and spike strips, which he later admitted in an interview he planned to use if police either shot at or chased him.
Following his arrest, Holmes was initially jailed at the Arapahoe County Detention Center, under suicide watch. The police interviewed over 200 witnesses of the shooting. Speaking on behalf of himself and FBI agent James Yacone, who was in charge of the investigation, Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates said he was confident that the shooter acted alone.
When apprehended, Holmes told the police that he had booby trapped his apartment with explosive devices before heading off to the movie theater. Police then evacuated five buildings surrounding his Aurora residence, about 8 km (5 mi) north of the cinema. Holmes' apartment complex is limited to University of Colorado Medical Center students, patients, and employees. One day after the shooting, officials disarmed an explosive device that was wired to the apartment's front door, allowing a remote-controlled robot to enter and disable other explosives. The apartment held over 30 homemade grenades, wired to a control box in the kitchen and filled with at least 110 L (30 US gal) of gasoline.
Neighbors reported loud music from the apartment around midnight on the night of the massacre, and one went to his door to tell him she was calling the police; she said the door seemed to be unlocked, but she chose not to open it.
A police official said a Batman mask was found in the apartment as well. On July 23, police finished collecting evidence from the apartment. Two days later, residents were allowed to return to the four surrounding buildings, and six days later, residents were allowed to move back into the formerly booby-trapped building.
Eighty-two casualties were reported. Seventy were hit by bullets, reported by mainstream news as the most victims of any mass shooting in United States history. This figure would not be surpassed until the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting, which killed 49 people and injured 58 others for a combined total of 107 casualties. Four people's eyes were irritated by the tear gas grenades, while eight others sustained non-gunshot injuries while fleeing the theater. The massacre was the deadliest shooting in Colorado since the Columbine High School massacre on April 20, 1999.
Ten victims died at the scene and two more were pronounced dead in local hospitals. Four men — Jonathan Blunk, John Larimer, Matt McQuinn, and Alexander Teves — died protecting their girlfriends. Gordon Cowden died saving the lives of his two teenage daughters. The people murdered were:
- Jonathan Blunk, age 26, shot once in the back (fatally) and once in the head
- Alexander J. Boik, age 18, shot once in the head (fatally), chest, and shoulder
- Jesse Childress, age 29, shot once in the torso (fatally), both legs, and right arm
- Gordon Cowden, age 51, shot once in the chest
- Jessica Ghawi (also known as Jessica Redfield), a sports journalist, age 24, shot six times, four in the torso and limbs and once in the head (fatally). Seven weeks earlier, while on vacation, she left the food court minutes prior to the Toronto Eaton Centre shooting
- John Larimer, age 27, shot twice in the chest and abdomen (both fatally)
- Matt McQuinn, age 27, shot nine times, including in the chest and neck (both fatally)
- Micayla Medek, age 23, shot once in the chest
- Veronica Moser-Sullivan, age 6, shot four times, in the chest (fatally), limbs, and lower right side
- Alex Sullivan, age 27, shot once in the chest
- Alexander C. Teves, age 24, shot once in the head
- Rebecca Wingo, age 31, shot in the head (fatally), shot once in the torso, and once in a limb
The injured were treated at Children's Hospital Colorado, Denver Health Medical Center, The Medical Center of Aurora, Parker Adventist Hospital, Rose Medical Center, Swedish Hospital, and University Hospital. On July 25, three of the five hospitals treating victims announced they would limit medical bills or forgive them entirely.
Caleb Medley, the last victim discharged, left University Hospital on September 12. He had serious brain damage and an injury to his right eye from a shotgun blast to the head, and underwent three brain surgeries. He required a feeding tube, had severely impaired movement, and could no longer speak.
The Community First Foundation collected more than $5 million for a fund for victims and their families. In September, victims and their families received surveys asking about their preferences for how collected funds should be distributed, either by dividing it equally among victims or through a needs-assessment process.
On November 16, 2012, the Aurora Victim Relief Fund announced that each claimant would receive $220,000.
On July 30, Colorado prosecutors filed formal charges against Holmes, including 24 counts of first degree murder, 116 counts of attempted first degree murder and one count of illegal possession of explosives. Two charges were filed for each victim to expand the opportunities for prosecutors to obtain convictions. Colorado State District Court Judge William B. Sylvester, who is the trial judge overseeing the case, has placed a gag order on lawyers and law enforcement, sealing the court file and barring the University of Colorado from releasing public records relating to Holmes' year at the school. Media organizations are challenging the sealing of the court file.
On August 9, Holmes' attorneys said he is mentally ill and they needed more time to assess the nature of his illness. The disclosure was made at a court hearing in Centennial, Colorado, where news media organizations asked a judge to unseal court documents in the case. Prosecutors alleged on August 24, 2012, that Holmes told a classmate he wanted to kill people four months before the shooting.
A judge ruled on August 30 that a notebook written by Holmes, in which he allegedly described a violent attack, was covered by physician–patient privilege, because it was addressed to his psychiatrist. This made it inadmissible as evidence unless Holmes' mental health became an issue in the case. Prosecutors dropped their request for access to the notebook on September 20, 2012. Due to suicide attempts made by Holmes, Judge Sylvester agreed to postpone proceedings until December 2012.
On January 2, 2013, prosecutors and defense attorneys in the case returned to court in advance of the preliminary hearing, the public's first officially sanctioned look at the evidence, due to the gag order. It began on January 7. Prosecutors offered their case as to why the trial should proceed, and defense lawyers argued that it should not. At the conclusion, Judge Sylvester decided there was enough relevant, admissible evidence to proceed to a trial.[clarification needed]
Also on January 7, lawyers for both sides argued whether to admit four unspecified prescription bottles and immunization records investigators had seized from Holmes' apartment when they searched it in July 2012, considering doctor-patient confidentiality laws. The judge ruled in October that prosecutors could keep the items.
On March 27, Holmes' lawyers offered a guilty plea in exchange for prosecutors not seeking the death penalty. On April 1, the prosecution announced it had declined the offer. Arapahoe County district attorney George Brauchler said "It's my determination and my intention that in this case for James Eagan Holmes justice is death."
On February 10, 2014, the presiding Arapahoe County District Court Judge, Carlos Samour, denied the last of the defense's motions to keep evidence from trial. Jurors were permitted to hear about evidence found in Holmes' computers through disputed warrants and his illegally obtained credit union records. The trial, originally set for February 2014, was placed on hold while Judge Samour decided whether Holmes, who pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, should undergo a second psychiatric evaluation.
The trial started on April 27, 2015. The jury consisted of nineteen women and five men, two of whom had connections to the Columbine High School massacre. Arapahoe County prosecutors say Holmes was sane during the shooting and aimed to kill all 400 people in the theater, while Holmes' lawyers said he had a psychotic episode during the attack. On May 7, an FBI agent displayed pieces of evidence at the trial, including Holmes' body armor, arsenal of weapons, unfired ammunition, and helmet with strands of his dyed orange hair. Jurors examined the evidence for thirty minutes. Holmes was represented by the Colorado State Public Defender.
On May 26, details of Holmes' notebook, reportedly found in a university mail room addressed to his psychiatrist Lynne Fenton, were entered into evidence at the trial for the first time. The notebook elaborated on Holmes' obsession to kill since ten years prior to the shooting and his dissatisfaction with life and finding work, as well as health issues. It also had details of planning for the shooting, which prosecutors said indicated Holmes premeditated the attack. On May 27, Dr. William Reid, a court-appointed psychiatrist, testified that Holmes was mentally ill but legally sane. Reid and another doctor evaluated Holmes in December 2013 and determined that he understood what he was doing. On June 8, a second psychiatrist, Jeffrey Metzner, testified that Holmes was mentally ill but legally sane during the shooting, and suffers from schizoaffective disorder.
On June 9, three jurors were dismissed from the trial due to concerns of them violating orders not to talk about news reports about the case. In the following week, this was followed by two additional jurors; the first was dismissed due to emotional problems in the wake of the shooting of a family member, the second for recognizing a survivor who was wounded in the massacre.
By July 10, the prosecution and the defense rested their cases. Closing statements were made on July 14, with formal deliberations beginning the following morning.
Verdict and sentencingEdit
On July 16, after jury deliberations, Holmes was found guilty of twenty-four counts of first-degree murder, 140 counts of attempted first-degree murder, one count of possessing illegal explosives, and a sentence enhancement of a crime of violence. The two murder convictions for each death were first-degree murder or attempted murder after deliberation, and first-degree murder or attempted murder with extreme indifference.
The sentencing phase began on July 22. On July 23, the jury ruled that Holmes acted in a cruel manner, was lying in wait, and ambushed his victims during the shooting, which constitute as aggravating factors. However, the jurors decided that Holmes did not intend to kill children when he opened fire.
On July 27, Holmes' sister stated in her testimony that her brother became withdrawn from the family after they moved from Salinas to San Diego during his early teenage years. On July 28, Holmes' father pleaded for his son's life, stating that he is severely mentally ill. He displayed photos of camping trips and family vacations with Holmes to the jury. On July 30, Holmes' lawyers made a final appeal to the jurors, urging them to consider mental illness in his sentencing despite their rejection of the insanity defense used in the trial. The appeal for clemency was rejected on August 3 under the basis that mitigating factors such as mental illness did not outweigh aggravating factors such as the number of casualties in the massacre.
Holmes was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole on August 7 after jurors failed to reach a unanimous decision over sentencing him to death. Formal sentencing began on August 24 and was expected to last for three days. At the end of the hearing on August 26, Samour formally sentenced Holmes to twelve life imprisonment sentences without parole and a maximum 3,318 additional years on attempted murder and explosives possession convictions.
The evening after the shooting, a candlelight vigil was held at the site in Aurora. President Barack Obama ordered flags at government buildings flown at half-staff, in tribute to the victims, until July 25. Both Obama's and Mitt Romney's campaigns temporarily suspended television advertising in Colorado for the 2012 presidential election. On July 22, President Obama met with victims and local and state officials and gave a nationally televised speech from Aurora. Many world leaders sent their condolences, including Queen Elizabeth II, French President François Hollande, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Pope Benedict XVI.
Warner Bros., the distributor of The Dark Knight Rises, said it was deeply saddened by the shooting. The studio canceled the film's gala premieres in France, Mexico, and Japan, scaled down its marketing campaign in Finland, and decided not to report box office figures for the movie until July 23. Some television advertisements for the film were also canceled. Other major film studios joined Warner Bros. in withholding early box office numbers on July 21. Warner Bros. reportedly made a "substantial" donation to Colorado's Community First Foundation to benefit victims.
Christopher Nolan, the film's director, spoke on behalf of his cast and crew and called the event "savage" and "devastating." Christian Bale, who plays Batman in the film series, privately visited victims on July 24. Members of the Colorado Rockies baseball team also visited victims. Members of the Denver Broncos also called or visited individuals at the hospitals.
Warner Bros. instructed cinemas to stop screening a trailer for the film Gangster Squad, which preceded The Dark Knight Rises screenings in some cities (though not in Aurora), because it contained a scene involving the main characters shooting at a movie theater audience with machine guns. The film's release date was rescheduled to January 2013, and the theater scene was replaced by a new sequence in a different setting.
In the wake of the shooting, DC Comics delayed the release of Batman Incorporated #3, which includes a scene in which a female Leviathan agent brandishes a handgun in a classroom full of children while disguised as a schoolteacher. Warner Bros. Animation reportedly edited the Cartoon Network series Beware the Batman to make the firearms look less realistic.
Hans Zimmer, who composed the soundtrack for The Dark Knight Rises, recorded a choral song entitled "Aurora" in honor of the victims. The song was sold for donations that went to a fund for the victims.
Cinemark agreed to pay any funeral expenses incurred by the deceased victims' families not covered by the Crime Victims' Compensation Fund. Cinemark closed the entire Century Aurora 16 multiplex in the wake of the shooting but reopened January 17, 2013 with a 40-minute ceremony led by Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan. As of April 2, 2015, Cinemark Theatres has not released any photographs or video evidence.
Soon after the shooting, police departments and cinemas across the United States and around the world increased security for fear of copycat incidents. In New York City, police officers were deployed to theaters screening the new film.
The National Association of Theatre Owners distributed checklists from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to its members and said in a July 21 statement that members were "working closely with local law enforcement agencies and reviewing security procedures." AMC Theatres announced it would "not allow any guests into our theatres in costumes that make other guests feel uncomfortable and we will not permit face-covering masks or fake weapons inside our buildings." Security Director News raised the possibility in a July 23 article that "the massacre could be a Virginia Tech for movie theaters, causing security to become a bigger part of the conversation and more stringent security procedures to be adopted at theaters across the country." Several theaters subsequently held tighter security on allowing unaccompanied singles to see films.
Three victims sued Cinemark Theatres in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado on September 21, 2012 for the company's alleged negligence in failing to provide adequate safety and security measures. Their attorneys released the statement "Readily available security procedures, security equipment and security personnel would likely have prevented or deterred the gunman from accomplishing his planned assault on the theater's patrons."
In response, Cinemark's representation filed a motion to dismiss on September 27, 2012, on the grounds that there was no liability under Colorado law for failure to prevent an unforeseeable criminal act. Cinemark's motion quoted extensively from the landmark California appellate opinion that held McDonald's had no duty of care to prevent the 1984 San Ysidro McDonald's massacre. On October 30, 2012, the court hearing the criminal case against Holmes denied a motion by some of the survivors that would have let them access sealed evidence for review in their civil action against the theater chain. On January 24, 2013, U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Hegarty issued a recommendation that most of the claims be thrown out, as they were not allowable under Colorado law. He also said claims alleging violations of the Colorado Premises Liability Act could proceed.
Judge R. Brooke Jackson stated that for theaters today, "One might reasonably believe that a mass shooting incident in a theater was likely enough (that is, not just a possibility) to be a foreseeable next step in the history of such acts by deranged individuals". Attorney Christina Habas, who represents several theater victims, has said "We essentially don't have a single photograph, a single piece of evidence that we can show to a jury". In June 2016, a federal judge dismissed the last claims in the lawsuit.
In a separate lawsuit in state court, Cinemark was sued by families of the victims, who alleged the theater should have taken greater measures to prevent such a shooting. In May 2016, after years of legal debate, a jury took three hours to deliver a unanimous verdict that the theater chain was not liable to any degree for the tragedy that transpired. The judge allowed Cinemark Theatres to submit a bill of costs to the plaintiffs to recover expenses due to the litigation, as Colorado state law allows for prevailing parties. In September 2016, Cinemark dropped all claims for reimbursement of legal fees.
University of ColoradoEdit
On January 14, 2013, Chantel Blunk, widow of victim Jonathan Blunk, filed a lawsuit against the University of Colorado in federal court. She alleged that a school psychiatrist could have prevented the slaughter by having Holmes detained after he admitted he "fantasized about killing a lot of people." This type of lawsuit had been anticipated in an August 2012 article co-authored by bioethicist Arthur Caplan which discussed the applicability of the landmark California Supreme Court decision in Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California (1976) to the facts of the Aurora shooting.
A grassroots community center, Aurora Strong Resilence Center, was established by community leaders, elected officials, and mental health professionals, as a response to the shooting. The center offers therapy for people who experienced traumatic stress from the theater shooting, and also people who were victims of other crimes and refugees who experienced a traumatic event in their country of origin before coming to the U.S.
In the days following the attack, several people around the U.S. were arrested for threats and suspicious activities at or near screenings of The Dark Knight Rises.
- On July 22 in Norwalk, California, a man at a The Dark Knight Rises screening who yelled, "Does anyone have a gun?" and "I should go off like in Colorado." was arrested for making criminal threats. He served three months in jail and was sentenced to three years on probation.
- On July 22 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a man faced criminal charges for being involved in a fight in a cinema restroom. During the fight, a moviegoer shouted "Gun!", causing panic inside the theater showing The Dark Knight Rises.
- On July 23 in San Jose, California, someone threw a package into a theater showing The Dark Knight Rises and reportedly yelled that it was a bomb, leading to an evacuation.
- On July 23 in Sierra Vista, Arizona, a moviegoer's confrontation with an intoxicated man with a backpack at a The Dark Knight Rises screening led to "mass hysteria" and 50 people evacuating the theater.
- On August 4 in Westlake, Ohio, a man was arrested for carrying several weapons in a satchel into a screening of The Dark Knight Rises. The suspect later received six months imprisonment over the incident.
Sale of guns and gun control debateEdit
Colorado gun sales spiked after the shooting, with the number of background checks for people seeking to purchase a firearm in the state increasing to 2,887, up 43% from the previous week. Gun sales in Washington, Florida, California, and Georgia also increased. The shooting reignited the political debate on gun control, with one issue being the "easy access" Holmes had to semi-automatic rifles and high-capacity magazines, which were banned federally from 1994 to 2004. The results of a survey released on July 30, 2012 by the Pew Research Center suggested the incident did not change Americans' views on the issue.
Campaign against media coverageEdit
In 2015, a campaign titled "No Notoriety" was started by the parents of Alexander Teves, who died in the shooting. According to Teves' father, the campaign's incentive is to encourage media outlets to limit the usage of the suspect's name and photos when reporting about the Aurora shooting, as well as other mass shootings that receive national media coverage. In an interview on CNN, Teves' parents said they and the relatives of other victims believe the mass media coverage of Holmes' name and photo may inspire others to commit mass shootings for notoriety.
A memorial to the victims of the attack was installed near Aurora Municipal Center, just over half a mile from the theater, and dedicated on July 19, 2018, one day before the sixth anniversary of the attack. It consists of a park-like dell with 83 abstract birds, one for each victim. Thirteen of the birds, with translucent wings, are on a center column and represent the twelve dead and the unborn child.
The memorial, titled "Ascentiate," was designed by artist Douwe Blumberg.
- 1989 Harlem Nights movie theater shooting – Detroit suburban theater shooting that occurred simultaneous to a shooting scene in the film
- 1993 Aurora, Colorado shooting – mass shooting and robbery that occurred in a Chuck E. Cheese's in Aurora
- 2015 Lafayette shooting – theater shooting in Lafayette, Louisiana, that occurred during the screening of the film Trainwreck
- Dark Night, a 2016 film about the shooting
- Gun laws in Colorado
- Gun law in the United States
- Gun violence in the United States
- Mass shootings in the United States
- List of rampage killers (Americas)
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Maps of crime scene
- Map of theater, parking lot, and diagram of the charges at The Washington Post
- Map of theater, suspect's apartment, and hospitals at The Denver Post
- Map and photographs of crime scene at The New York Times
- "Aurora Colorado theater shooting: The Big Picture", The Boston Globe. July 23, 2012.
- Photos of the aftermath of the shooting and Holmes's booby-trapped flat Released by Arapahoe County District Attorney's Office on September 10, 2015.