The opening credits had barely begun when a gunman suddenly opened fire inside a crowded movie theater.
The scene was a bloodbath when officers arrived: 10 dead, dozens more wounded. At least two of the wounded later died at nearby hospitals, bringing the death total up to 12. Aurora police say a total of 70 people were shot, up from an earlier estimation of 50.
The deadliest shooting rampage since Fort Hood in 2009--and much like three years ago, when a lone gunman slaughtered 13 and wounded more than two dozen, Aurora police believe the massacre at Century 16 was the job of one person.
"All the evidence we have, every single indicator is that...he wasn't particularly aided by anyone else," Police Chief Dan Oates said Sunday. "We're building a case to show that this was a deliberative process by a very intelligent man who wanted to do this."
Theater 9 inside Aurora's Century 16 movie theater was packed for the midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises." Witnesses say the movie had barely begun when the gunman gained access through an emergency door and released some sort of canister. As gas drifted into the room, the gunman began shooting. Witnesses say the suspect--clad in black clothes, a vest and gas mask--started off by firing at the ceiling, then began spraying the audience with bullets.
A federal law enforcement official told the Associated Press that the gunman is believed to have bought a ticket and entered with the rest of the crowd. They said he propped open an exit door, donned ballistic gear and began his assault. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation.
A number of moviegoers were initially confused whether the gunshots ringing out were real or part of the movie.
"I thought it was part of the show to add some pizzaz or something," Jennifer Seeger told sister station KCNC.
But as realism set in, the scene immediately turned chaotic, with a herd of panicked people fleeing the room. Cell phone video showed many of those fleeing covered in blood.
“There was this one guy on all fours crawling. There was this girl spitting up blood. There were bullet holes in some people’s backs, in some people’s arms. There was one guy who was just stripped down to his boxers. It looked like he had been shot in the back or something,” Donovan Tate told KCNC.
Victims were transported to at least six area hospitals, including six victims taken to the Children's Hospital, 23 to the University of Colorado Hospital and 15 to the Medical Center of Aurora.
Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates says that the majority of victims were shot, but there were a handful that suffered other injuries. Sister station KCNC says hospitals have injuries ranging from shrapnel to issues with chemical exposure related to exposure from the canisters the gunman tossed into the theater.
The youngest survivor was a 3-month-old child, who has since been released from the hospital.
A number of frantic families remained in limbo for hours, wondering if their loved ones were simply missing, or among the 10 deceased, whose bodies were not removed from the theater until Friday night. After the bodies were removed, police began the grim process of notifying families of the deceased.
Among those killed are a 6-year-old girl, a man serving in the Navy and Air Force, an aspiring sports reporter, and a man who reportedly died protecting his girlfriend.
Police located the suspected shooter behind the movie theater and took him into custody without incident. Police have identified him as 24-year-old James Holmes.
Holmes reportedly was sporting red hair and told authorities he was "the Joker," an iconic Batman villain.
"He clearly looked like a deranged individual," New York's Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said.
Oates, who previously worked with Kelly in New York City, refused to comment during Friday's press conferences when asked if Holmes was dressed as the Joker.
Inside the alleged gunman's car, officers found a gas mask and four guns--one shotgun, two pistols and possibly an assault rifle. In the last 60 days, Oates says the suspect purchased four weapons and thousands of rounds of ammo. All were legally owned.
Police were forced to evacuate five buildings surrounding the suspect's apartment on 17th and Paris, after finding the third-floor apartment booby-trapped. Oates initially said it could be hours or even days before bomb technicians are able to figure out how to disarm flammable or explosive materials found inside.
"I've never seen anything like what the pictures are showing us," Oates said.
Authorities made significant progress Saturday, eliminating most of the major threats and gaining access to the inside. Residents in nearby buildings began being allowed to return home Saturday night. As of Monday, those evacuated from Holmes' building have yet to be allowed back home.
Anyone needing information or wishing to provide a tip can call Aurora police at 303-739-1862 or 720-913 STOP.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper released a statement about the shooting:
"This is not only an act of extreme violence, it is also an act of depravity. It is beyond the power of words to fully express our sorrow this morning. Our prayers and condolences go first to the families of those killed, and we share the grief of everyone affected by this senseless event. We appreciate the swift work by local, state and federal law enforcement. Coloradans have a remarkable ability to support one another in times of crisis. This one of those times.”
President Obama was informed of the shooting at 5:26 a.m. EST. Expressing shock and sadness, he has promised his administration will do everything they can for the city. Read his statement here
The Century 16 movie theater is located next to the Town Center in Aurora, near I-225 and Alameda.