On July 20, 2012, a occurred inside a in , during a of the film . Dressed in tactical clothing, set off 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 and the . It was the deadliest shooting in Colorado since the in 1999. Holmes was arrested in his car outside the cinema minutes later. He had earlier 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.
The shooting prompted an increase in security at movie theaters across the U.S. that were screening the same film, in fear of . It led to a spike in gun sales in Colorado and political debates about .
Holmes confessed to the shooting but pleaded . prosecutors sought the 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 , one for every person he killed; he also got 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 (operated by ), located at the 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 , a (not to be confused with a ), a , , a bullet-resistant throat protector, a groin protector, and tactical gloves. He was also listening to 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 shotgun, first at the ceiling and then at the audience. He also fired a with a 100-round , which eventually malfunctioned. Finally, he fired a 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 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 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 handcuffed Holmes behind his back 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 "", although authorities later declined to confirm this. Three days later, at his first court appearance in , 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 , 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 Detention Center, under . The police interviewed over 200 witnesses of the shooting. Speaking on behalf of himself and agent James Yacone, who was in charge of the investigation, Aurora Police Chief said he was confident that the shooter acted alone.
When apprehended, Holmes told the police that he had 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 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 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 , 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 injured themselves while fleeing the theater. The massacre was the deadliest shooting in Colorado since the on April 20, 1999.
Ten victims died at the scene and two more were pronounced 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 dead 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 (a.k.a. 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 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 , , , , , , and . On July 25, three of the five hospitals treating victims announced they would limit medical bills or forgive them entirely.
Ashley Moser, Veronica Moser-Sullivan's mother, suffered critical injuries after being shot in the chest and was rendered a . She a week after the attack.
Caleb Medley, the last victim discharged, left University Hospital on September 12. He had serious and an injury to his right eye from a shotgun blast to the head, and underwent three . He required a , had severely impaired movement, and could no longer speak.
The Community First Foundation collected more than 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 0,000.
Holmes' booking photo was released and he first appeared in court on July 23, 2012. According to press reports, he seemed dazed and largely unaware of his surroundings.
On July 30, Colorado prosecutors filed formal charges against Holmes, including 24 counts of , 116 counts of 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 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 and they needed more time to assess the nature of his illness. The disclosure was made at a court hearing in , 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 , 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 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.
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, , 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 .
Jury selection started on January 20, 2015. It ended on April 15, 2015.
The trial started on April 27, 2015. The jury consisted of nineteen women and five men, two of whom had connections to the . 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 during the attack. On May 7, an 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 .
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 .
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.
On July 9, Judge asked Holmes if he would testify in court, and advised him of his rights to do so. Holmes chose not to testify.
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 sentencing
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 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 to 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 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.
Responses to the shooting
The evening after the shooting, a was held at the site in Aurora. President ordered flags at government buildings , in tribute to the victims, until July 25. Both Obama's and 's campaigns temporarily suspended television advertising in Colorado for the . 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 , French President , Israeli Prime Minister , Russian President , and .Memorial across the street from the Aurora Century movie theater, in September 2012
"I would not presume to know anything about the victims of the shooting but that they were there last night to watch a movie. I believe movies are one of the great American art forms and the shared experience of watching a story unfold on screen is an important and joyful pastime. The movie theatre is my home, and the idea that someone would violate that innocent and hopeful place in such an unbearably savage way is devastating to me. Nothing any of us can say could ever adequately express our feelings for the innocent victims of this appalling crime, but our thoughts are with them and their families."
—Director 's reaction to the theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado.
, the distributor of , 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.
, the film's director, spoke on behalf of his cast and crew and called the event "savage" and "devastating.", who plays in the film series, privately visited victims on July 24. Members of the baseball team also visited victims. Members of the also called or visited individuals at the hospitals.
Warner Bros. instructed cinemas to stop screening a trailer for the film , 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, delayed the release of #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. reportedly edited the series to make the firearms look less realistic.
, who composed the 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 . As of April 2, 2015, 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 incidents. In , police officers were deployed to theaters screening the new film.
The distributed checklists from the to its members and said in a July 21 statement that members were "working closely with local law enforcement agencies and reviewing security procedures." 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 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 in the 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 had no to prevent the 1984 . 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". A trial date against was set for July 2016.
University of Colorado
On January 14, 2013, Chantel Blunk, widow of victim Jonathan Blunk, filed a lawsuit against the 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 which discussed the applicability of the landmark California Supreme Court decision in (1976) to the facts of the Aurora shooting.
A 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 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 , 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 , 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 , 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 , 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 , 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 debate
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 , , , and also increased. The shooting reignited the , with one issue being the "easy access" Holmes had to and high-capacity magazines, which were from 1994 to 2004. The results of a survey released on July 30, 2012 by the suggested the incident did not change Americans' views on the issue.
Campaign against media coverage
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 , 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 Thursday, 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 12 fatalities and the unborn child.
The memorial, titled "Ascentiate," was designed by artist Douwe Blumberg.
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Maps of crime scene