12 Killed, 59 Wounded in Colo. Theater Shooting

AURORA, Colo. (AP) — A gunman wearing a gas mask and black SWAT gear hurled a gas canister inside a crowded movie theater during a midnight showing of the new Batman movie Friday and then opened fire, killing 12 people and wounding nearly 60 others in an attack so bizarre that some moviegoers at first thought they were watching Hollywood special effects.

As smoke from the canister spread, audience members watching “The Dark Knight Rises” at the suburban Denver theater saw the silhouette of a person materialize near the screen, point a gun at the crowd and begin shooting, apparently without a word.

New York City’s police commissioner said he was told the gunman had painted his hair red and called himself the Joker – Batman’s nemesis – but Aurora police would not confirm that.

It was one of the deadliest mass shootings in recent U.S. history.

The suspected gunman, identified as James Holmes, a 24-year-old doctoral student in neuroscience who was about to drop out of the University of Colorado-Denver, was arrested near a car behind the theater.

Authorities gave no motive for the attack. The FBI said there was no indication of ties to any terrorist groups.

“There were bullet (casings) just falling on my head. They were burning my forehead,” Jennifer Seeger said, adding that the gunman, dressed like a SWAT team member, fired steadily, stopping only to reload. “Every few seconds it was just: Boom, boom, boom,” she said. “He would reload and shoot and anyone who would try to leave would just get killed.”

Police said 71 people in all were shot.

Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates said the gunman wore a gas mask, a ballistic helmet and vest, and leg, groin and throat protectors. He said he had an AR-15 military-style, semi-automatic rifle, a shotgun and two pistols.

While some witnesses said the gunman entered through a side-door emergency exit at the front of the theater, a federal law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Holmes bought a ticket and went into the theater as part of the crowd. The official said Holmes then apparently propped open an exit door in the theater as the movie was playing, donned the protective ballistic gear and opened fire.

FBI agents and police used a hook-and-ladder fire truck to reach Holmes’ apartment in Aurora. They put a camera at the end of a 12-foot pole inside the apartment and discovered the unit was booby-trapped. Authorities evacuated five buildings as they tried to figure how to disarm the flammable and explosive material.

In New York City, 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 confirmed he had spoken to Kelly. The two used to work together in New York.

Some of the victims were treated for chemical exposure apparently related to canisters thrown by the gunman. Those hurt included a 4-month-old baby, who was treated at a hospital and released.

Holmes enrolled in a Ph.D. program in neuroscience a year ago but was in the process of withdrawing at the time of the shooting, said University of Colorado-Denver spokeswoman Jacque Montgomery said.

Police released a statement from Holmes’ family: “Our hearts go out to those who were involved in this tragedy and to the families and friends of those involved.”

The movie opened across the world Friday with midnight showings in the U.S. The shooting prompted officials to cancel the red-carpet premiere in Paris, with workers pulling down the display at a theater on the Champs-Elysees.

Around the U.S., police and some movie theaters stepped up security for daytime showings of the movie, though many fans waiting in line said they were not worried about their safety.

President Barack Obama said he was saddened by the “horrific and tragic shooting,” pledging that his administration was “committed to bringing whoever was responsible to justice, ensuring the safety of our people, and caring for those who have been wounded.”

It was the worst mass shooting 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.

In Colorado, it was the deadliest since the Columbine High School massacre on April 20, 1999, when two students opened fire in the Denver suburb of Littleton, killing 12 classmates and a teacher and wounding 26 others before killing themselves. Columbine High is about 12 miles from the theater.

Friday’s attack began shortly after midnight at the multiplex theater, and audience members said they thought it was part of the movie, or some kind of stunt associated with it.

The film has several scenes of public mayhem – a hallmark of superhero movies. In one scene, the villain Bane leads an attack on the stock exchange and, in another, leads a shooting and bombing rampage on a packed football stadium.

The gunman released a gas that smelled like pepper spray from a green canister, Seeger said. “I thought it was showmanship. I didn’t think it was real,” she said.

Seeger said she was in the second row, about four feet from the gunman, when he pointed a gun at her face. At first, “I was just a deer in headlights. I didn’t know what to do,” she said. Then she ducked to the ground as the gunman shot people seated behind her.

She said she began crawling toward an exit when she saw a girl of about 14 “lying lifeless on the stairs.” She saw a man with a bullet wound in his back and tried to check his pulse, but “I had to go. I was going to get shot.”

Shayla Roeder said she saw a teenage girl on the ground bleeding outside the theater. “She just had this horrible look in her eyes. …. We made eye contact and I could tell she was not all right,” Roeder said.

Sylvana Guillen, 20, said that when a man appeared at the front of the theater clad in dark clothing looking like a SWAT team member as Catwoman made an appearance in the movie, the audience “thought it was a joke, a hoax.” Then they heard gunshots and smelled smoke from a canister he was carrying, and Guillen knew it was real.

The gunman began walking toward the seats and firing. Guillen said she told her friend, Misha Mostashiry, “You better get ready to be shot.”

“All you could do is hope he didn’t come for you,” Mostashiry said.

The two ran for the emergency exit and safely escaped. On their dash to the exit, they saw a man slip in the blood of a wounded woman he was trying to help.

Police, ambulances and emergency crews swarmed on the scene after frantic calls started flooding the 911 switchboard. Officers came running in and telling people to leave the theater, Salina Jordan told the Denver Post. She said some police were carrying and dragging bodies.

Warner Bros. grapples with Colo. shooting

NEW YORK (AP) — The movie industry grappled Friday with the deadly Colorado shooting at a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises,” as one of the most anticipated films in years became enmeshed with a horrifying tragedy.

The shooting, which killed 12 and left nearly 60 injured in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater, reverberated through Hollywood and upended carefully laid plans for the global release of “The Dark Knight Rises.” Warner Bros. quickly canceled a premiere planned for Paris and canceled press interviews in France.

“Warner Bros. and the filmmakers are deeply saddened to learn about this shocking incident,” read a statement from Warner Bros. “We extend our prayers and deepest sympathies to the victims, their loved ones and those affected by this tragedy.”

New York City’s police commissioner said he was told the gunman had painted his hair red and called himself the Joker – Batman’s nemesis – but Aurora police would not confirm that.

The studio was rushing to react to the tragedy. Dan Fellman, head of distribution for Warner Bros, said he had been up since 4 a.m. making calls.

“Everybody is very saddened by the event. We were obviously looking for a very happy occasion for us,” Fellman said. “It’s a difficult way to begin. We’re just more concerned now with the well-being of those that were injured, of course.”

The studio had no further comment on whether screenings might be canceled, or precautions taken. Director Christopher Nolan and actor Christian Bale did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Warner Bros. did move to pull trailers for its upcoming movie “Gangster Squad” from showings of “The Dark Knight Rises.” The trailer of the film, which stars Sean Penn and Ryan Gosling in a ruthless war between `40s Los Angeles police and the mob, includes a scene of mobsters firing into a movie theater from behind the screen.

A person familiar with what was shown at the Aurora theater said the trailer did not play there. The person did not want to be identified because the person was not authorized to speak on the matter.

Cinemark Holdings, Inc., the chain that owns the theater where the shooting happened, said it was working closely with local law enforcement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and loved ones, our employees, and the Aurora community,” the company said.

Movie theaters around the country continued Friday showings of the film as planned, though some were stepping up security. New York police commissioner Raymond Kelly said the city was providing an extra security in New York theaters playing “The Dark Knight Rises” “as a precaution against copycats and to raise the comfort levels among movie patrons.”

In the wake of the shooting, “The Dark Knight Rises” and the earlier Batman films, with their dark themes and emphasis on terrorism, were sure to be heavily scrutinized. The practice of midnight screenings for eagerly anticipated blockbusters, too, could come into question.

Kelly also said that the suspected gunman, James Holmes, had his hair painted red and identified himself to authorities saying he was the Joker. Heath Ledger played the Joker in the previous Batman installment, “The Dark Knight,” although his hair was colored green. Ledger died in 2008 before the film was released from a toxic combination of prescription drugs.

The National Association of Theatre Owners issued a statement offering their “hearts and prayers” to the victims. The association said, “Guest safety is, and will continue to be a priority for theater owners,” adding that the group would work closely with law enforcement and review security procedures.

“We share the shock and sadness of everyone in the motion picture community at the news of this terrible event,” said former Sen. Chris Dodd, chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America. “We extend our prayers and deepest sympathies to the victims, their loved ones and all those affected by this tragedy.”

“The Dark Knight Rises” had expectations of being one of the biggest weekend openings ever. Its midnight screenings earned $30.6 million, Warner Bros. said Friday. That’s the second-best midnight opening ever, behind $43.5 million for the “Harry Potter” finale. “The Dark Knight” earned a then-record $158.4 million in its first three days, including $18.5 million from midnight screenings.

The PG-13 film played in 3,825 theaters domestically in the midnight screenings, expanding to 4,404 cinemas nationwide Friday. Many showings on the weekend were sold out in advance.

Paul Dergarabedian, an analyst for Hollywood.com who specializes in box office, declined to speculate on an effect the tragedy might have on the film over the weekend, saying it was too soon to estimate. But some moviegoers were already rethinking their plans.

Christine Cooley, who works for the University of Florida at a campus facility near Tampa, Fla., said she and her 15-year-old daughter were stunned by the TV coverage of the shooting Friday morning.

“Her immediate reaction was `I’m never going to the movie theater again. Why should I go somewhere where I’m looking over my shoulder worrying that someone is going to come in and harm us when I can wait six months and watch it in the safety of my own home?'”

Cooley said she tried to explain to her daughter that it was an isolated incident, “but I see where she’s coming from. Why put yourself in harm’s way?”

Others were undeterred.

“Just seem like another day at the movies,” said Jimmie Baker, 40, of Harlem, N.Y., at a theater in Times Square.

Andrew Bross, 22, of Livingston, N.J., returned Friday to watch “The Dark Knight Rises” for the second time in 12 hours.

“I go to the movies every week,” he said. “I’m going to keep going. I’m not going to let it stop me one bit.”

Damon Lindelof, the co-creator of “Lost,” said he was going to see the film Friday night and suggested a modest tribute: a minute of silence as the end credit roll.