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Batman premiere shooting: The aftermath

Written by: Derrick Spies
Published: Monday, July 23, 2012

The shooting suspect who went on a deadly rampage inside a Colorado theater planned the attack with “calculation and deliberation,” police said, receiving deliveries for months which authorities believe armed him for battle and were used to rig his apartment with dozens of bombs.

Authorities on Saturday removed dangerous explosive materials from inside James Holmes’ suburban Denver apartment a day after police said he opened fire and set off gas canisters in a suburban theater minutes into the premiere of the Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises.” The attack left 12 people dead and 58 injured.

After buying a ticket to the movie, Holmes went into the theater and propped open an exit door several minutes into the film, a federal law enforcement official said. He then allegedly returned in protective gear and with high-powered weapons and opened fire, shooting scores of people and picking off victims who tried to flee.

His apartment was rigged with jars of liquids, explosives and chemicals that were booby trapped to kill “whoever entered it,” Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates said, noting it would have likely been one of his officers.

All hazards have been removed from the Holmes’ apartment and residents in surrounding buildings can return home, police said.

The exception was Holmes’ apartment building, where authorities were still collecting evidence. Inside the apartment, authorities began covering the windows with black plastic to prevent onlookers from seeing in. Before they did, a man in an ATF T-shirt could be seen measuring a poster on a closet that advertised a DVD called “Soldiers of Misfortune.” The poster showed several figures in various positions playing paintball, some wearing masks.

Authorities wouldn’t discuss a motive for one of the deadliest mass shootings in recent U.S. history, as makeshift memorials for the victims sprang up and relatives began to publicly mourn their loved ones.

The twelve deceased have been identified

All twelve names of those allegedly gunned down by Holmes were also released Saturday, with a six-year-old girl, a teenager and two US servicemen among the victims. Arapahoe County Coroner’s office said all 12 victims died of gunshot wounds and named the youngest as Veronica Moser-Sullivan, 6.

“She was beautiful and innocent,” the girl’s great aunt Annie Dalton told The Denver Post, recalling how the blonde child “loved to dress up and read, and was doing well at school.”

Veronica’s mother, who is 25, was shot in the neck and abdomen and is in critical condition at Aurora Medical Center. She is drifting in and out of consciousness and is unaware that her daughter is dead, said the newspaper.

The oldest victim was named by the coroner as Gordon Cowden, 51.

The others killed included John Larimer, 27, who joined the US Navy in June 2012, and Jesse Childress, 29, who CNN said was also on active duty as a US Air Force staff sergeant.

Aspiring sportscaster Jessica Ghawi, 24, also died in the rampage. Her brother, Jordan, spoke to CNN.

“The more air time these victims have, the less time that man has his two seconds on television,” he said, calling Holmes “a coward.”

The other victims were Alex Sullivan, a bartender who was celebrating his 27th birthday, Micayla Medek, 23, Jonathan Blunk, 26, Rebecca Wingo, 32, and Alexander Teves, 24.

The 12th person killed was listed by the coroner’s office as Matt McQuinn, 27. He has been presumptively identified but is awaiting definitive identification.

Long term support needed for victims

Victim support counselor Carol O’Shea said a painstaking process had been followed to ensure that families were notified first and in person.

“We are reaching out frantically and as quick as we can to try to get those resources to people and notifying people as quickly as we can,” she told reporters.

Many of those wounded in the shooting will suffer long-term consequences, according to Bob Snyder, a doctor at the city’s medical center.

The movie theater attack has revived a debate over gun control in the United States, and drew condemnation by President Barack Obama and his election rival, Republican Mitt Romney.

In Aurora, people gathered late Friday for two vigils as it emerged that Holmes bought more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition on the Internet, and four guns, in the two months before the massacre.

Shooter was a loner

Holmes had recently withdrawn from a competitive graduate program in neuroscience at the University of Colorado-Denver, where he was one of six students at the school to get National Institutes of Health grant money. He recently took an intense three-part, oral exam that marks the end of the freshman year of the four-year program there, but university officials would not say if he passed, citing privacy concerns.

In a resume posted on Monster.com, Holmes listed himself as an “aspiring scientist” and said he was looking for a job as a laboratory technician.

The resume, first obtained by The Press-Enterprise in Riverside, paints a picture of a brilliant young man brimming with potential: He worked as a summer intern at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla in 2006 and mapped the neurons of Zebra finches and studied the flight muscles of hummingbirds while an undergraduate at the University of California, Riverside. He also worked as a summer camp counselor to underprivileged children at a Jewish camp in Los Angeles in 2008.

Still, neighbors and former classmates in California said although Holmes was whip-smart, he was a loner who said little and was easily forgotten – until this week.

Ammo ordered over the internet

Holmes apparently had prepared the attack at the Aurora theater well in advance, receiving multiple deliveries by mail for four months to his home and school and buying thousands of rounds of ammunition on the Internet, Oates said.

“He had a high volume of deliveries,” Oates said. “We think this explains how he got his hands on the magazine, ammunition,” he said, as well as the rigged explosives in his apartment.

Oates said Holmes used a military-style semi-automatic rifle, a shotgun and a pistol to open fire on the unsuspecting theater-goers. He had bought the weapons at local gun stores within the last two months.

Holmes also bought an urban assault vest, two magazine holders and a knife for just over $300 on July 2 from an online supplier of tactical gear for police and military personnel, according to the company.

Chad Weinman, CEO of TacticalGear.com, said his company processes thousands of orders each day, and there was nothing unusual in the one that Holmes placed.

“Everything Mr. Holmes purchased on July 2 is commercially available,” Weinman said, adding he was “appalled” that the material was sold to Holmes before the shooting.

“What we’re seeing here is evidence of some calculation and deliberation,” Oates added.

Federal authorities detonated one small explosive and disarmed others inside Holmes’ apartment after sending in a robot to take down a trip wire, FBI Special agent James Yacone said. Bomb technicians then neutralized what he called a “hyperbolic mixture” and an improvised explosive device containing an unknown substance. There also were multiple containers of accelerants, he said.

“It was an extremely dangerous environment,” Yacone said, saying anyone who walked in would have sustained “significant injuries” or been killed.

Outside the apartment, police arranged plastic storage boxes and large white plastic bags, possibly for evidence, although no officials were available to confirm the purpose of the containers.

Kept in solitary confinement for his own safety

Holmes meanwhile, has been kept in solitary confinement for his protection at the Arapahoe Detention Centre, held without bond on suspicion of multiple counts of first-degree murder. He was set for an initial hearing today and has been appointed a public defender, authorities said.

According to the New York Daily News he was being held under suicide watch and was still acting out his “Joker” persona.

“He hasn’t shown any remorse,” a jail employee told the paper. “He thinks he’s acting in a movie.”

One released inmate told the Daily News that Holmes had been spitting at guards and at his cell door. “Dude was acting crazy,” the inmate said.

Another inmate predicted “he won’t live to see Monday’s court appearance” if he was let out among the general prison population.

On his first night in jail the other prisoners serenaded him with a chant of “kid killer”, referring to the six year-old girl who died in the attack.

“All the inmates were talking about killing him,” Wayne Medley told the newspaper as he left the prison. “Everyone was looking for an opportunity. It’s all they could talk about.”

He was reportedly led to his cell in handcuffs and leg shackles with a red towel over his head, saying nothing. The windows of the cell were taped over to hide him from view.

Holmes computer recovered

US police have also recovered a computer belonging to Holmes, which could provide vital clues to how he planned the massacre, a senior officer said.

The computer was found inside his apartment.

“I’m told there was a computer inside the apartment and with the assistance of the FBI that computer will be completely analyzed,” Oates told CBS talk show “Face the Nation.”

“That may take some time. So we’re hopeful that will yield some information,” he added.

The Batman movie, the last in the trilogy starring Christian Bale, opened worldwide Friday with midnight showings in the U.S. “The Dark Knight Rises” earned $30.6 million in Friday morning midnight screenings, and, according to industry estimates, roughly $75 to 77 million on that day. That put it on track for a weekend total of around $165 million, which would be the second-highest opening weekend ever, following “The Avengers.”

The shooting was the worst in the U.S. since the Nov. 5, 2009, attack at Fort Hood, Texas. An Army psychiatrist was charged with killing 13 soldiers and civilians and wounding more than two dozen others.

Additional reporting by SAPA, AFP