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Article includes complete police radio traffic of first 17 minutes of incident
Updated On: Jul 21, 2012
Coloradans woke up Friday to news of the tragedy, an eerie echo of a similar massacre 13 years ago in a different Denver suburb, at Columbine High School. Once again, a mass shooting in Colorado was recounted around the world. It is among the worst mass shootings in American 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.
The lone figure who appeared suddenly at the front of the theater looked, to moviegoers engrossed in early scenes of "The Dark Knight Rises," like a live-action twist on a fun midnight show already populated with costumed fans. James Holmes had initially entered Movie Theater 9 after purchasing a ticket. Approximately 15 minutes into the movie was under way Holmes went out a rear exit door, propping it open He changed into tactical gear and armed himself with a shotgun, AR-15, and Glock semi-automatic pistol before re-entering through the exit door near the screen.
As he re-entered Holmes tossed two o/c canisters that burst into billowing clouds. Holmes then methodically and calmly walked up the aisle firing into the rows of patrons and those rushing to the exits. Holmes set about turning a packed movie premiere into a chaotic scene of random carnage that left 12 dead and dozens injured. After exhausting his shotgun rounds, Holmes calmly dropped that weapon and resumed firing with the AR-15 assault rifle as he made his way up the aisle. Twenty to 30 rapid-fire shots struck patrons in their stadium-style seats or scrambling up the steps.
Holmes was dressed in black and was wearing full tactical gear, including a ballistics helmet, a ballistics vest, a groin protector, throat protector, tactical gloves, gas mask, and other gear. He was well armed with an AR-15 .223-caliber rifle, a Remington 12-gauge shotgun and a .40-caliber Glock handgun. Another .40-caliber Glock handgun was found in the suspect's white Hyundai behind the theater.
Holmes came with a full arsenal. In the last 60 days, he purchased four guns at local metro gun shops, and through the Internet, he purchased more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition, more than 3,000 rounds of .223 for the assault rifle, 3,000 rounds of .40-caliber ammunition for the two Glocks in his possession and 300 rounds for the 12-gauge shotgun. Also through the Internet, he purchased multiple magazines for the .223-caliber assault rifle, including one 100-round drum magazine which was recovered from the scene.
The dim light, combined with spreading smoke, obscured emergency exits as the passing time became impossible to reckon in the pandemonium. Terrorized moviegoers, some dragging bloodied bodies, spilled out of the Century Aurora 16 complex at Aurora Town Center trying to escape shortly after 12:30 a.m. Hundreds of calls poured into the dispatch center starting at 12:39 a.m. MDT Friday. The Aurora police response was swift and officers were on the scene within 60 to 90 seconds.
Officers set up immediately for an “active shooter” entry and within seven minutes of the first 911 call for help entered the theatre in search of the heavily armed shooter. Officers immediately encountered gas and a horrific scene of carnage. Fire alarms blaring; a dark and smoke filled theater illuminated by the movie which was still playing; the screams of frightened and wounded patrons; Dead and wounded lay throughout theater 9.
While some officers made entry others set up to cover the exits while others desperately tried to get suspect information from fleeing patrons to broadcast to their colleagues. Arriving supervisors began coordinating the chaotic scene directing triage locations, staging areas, and tactical operations. Meanwhile at the rear of the theater two officers encountered an armed man dressed in dark tactical gear exiting the theater and walking towards a white sedan parked near the exit. Based on his dress at first they thought the man was a responding tactical SWAT officer. However the gas mask and other details of his appearance immediately changed their minds and they challenged him before he reached his vehicle. Holmes offered no resistance and was arrested and disarmed.
They immediately began questioning Holmes who told them he was “The Joker” and that he had acted alone. He also told them where he lived and that his apartment was booby trapped with explosives. He was taken from the scene for further questioning, but refused to talk and asked for an attorney. Approximately 20 minutes had past from start to finish. For all involved it felt like hours.
The First 15 Minutes
Dramatic emergency radio traffic recounts the hectic first minutes of the Aurora theater shooting as police descended on the scene:
The first sign of trouble was reported at 12:39 a.m.
Dispatch: "315 and 314 for a shooting at Century Theaters, 14300 East Alameda Avenue. They are saying somebody is shooting inside the auditorium."
Dispatch: "They're saying Theater 9, where Batman was playing."
Dispatch: "There is at least one person that's been shot, but they're saying there's hundreds of people just running around."
The first officer arrives on the scene within minutes.
Officer: "453, I have a party shot here. I need rescue hot." Officer: "We've got another person outside shot in the leg, a female. I've got people running out of the theater, they're shot." Dispatch: "We'll let rescue know. They'll start more people. Officer: "Another victim, on the north side of the parking lot."
Two minutes later, officers try to make their way into Theater 9 but notice heavy smoke coming from that room.
Officer: "316, Somebody is spraying gas in here too."
Then, multiple officers request gas masks so they can enter the theater.
Officer: "Do we have gas masks available? Officer: "Any units that can bring gas masks to Theater 9, again we need gas masks." Officer : "Get us some damn gas masks to theater 9, we can't get in it." Officer: "From what I can smell it's OC (pepper spray)"
Two minutes later -- at 12:47 a.m., officers start to make their into the theater.
Officer: "We need rescue inside the auditorium, we have multiple victims." Officer: "I've got seven down in Theater 9, seven down!" Officer: "I've got a child victim. I need rescue at the back door of Theater 9 now."
At the same time, police are tracking down the suspected shooter.
Officer: "I need a marked car behind the theater, Sable side. I've got a suspect in a gas mask."
Police move in less than a minute later.
Officer: "The white car in the rear of the lot, is that a suspect? Officer: Yes, we've got rifles, gas masks. He's detained right now. I've got an open door going into the theater. Officer: "Ok hold that position, hold your suspect." Officer: "Set up a perimeter around the entire mall. Set up a perimeter around the entire mall. All cars do not need to go to the movie theater.
As some officers zero in on the suspect, others scramble to save lives.
Officer: "Bring all the victims that have been shot to the north side of the theater." Officer: "We need rescue inside the theater. Multiple victims." Officer: "210, I've got one on the east side immobile. I can't get to rescue. Shot twice in the back." Officer: "I need rescue to stage in the Dillard's lot. I need as many ambulances as we can to the Dillards' lot."
Police start to handle the injured.
Officer: "I want my fire trucks there also and I'll start bringing them in to triage people and get them out." Officer: "I'm taking one male to the hospital in my car." Officer: "Get me some officers in Theater 9 so we can get the movable victims out." Officer: "Start me Denver cars (police) this way too. I need more help." Officer: "I've got a child victim. I need rescue at the back door of Theater 9 now."
Three minutes later, police ask where the ambulances are.
Officer: "I've got one ambulance here. Where are my ambulances at? Officer: (open mike) Moaning, crying heard. Disptach: "Ambulances are staging at the northwest corner of the theater." Police use their cars as ambulances to ferry the wounded to hospitals.
Officer: "Cruiser 10, I need a medical crew inside. I've got one victim eviscerated."
Officer: "Do I have permission to start taking some of these victims via car? I've got a whole bunch of people shot out here and no rescue." Officer: Yes load 'em up and get 'em in cars and get them out of here." Officer: "15 dispatch, we're going to evacuate all that we can out of nine to the east side."