A lone 24-year-old masked gunman entered a Colorado movie theater playing the new Batman movie and opened fire early Friday, killing at least 12 people and wounding 50, according to police and local media. The suspect, a white male, was found in the parking lot and did not resist arrest, CNN said.
Witnesses described a chaotic scene, telling television reporters that they were overcome by noxious gas unleashed by the suspect just before he started shooting, and that they had to decide between staying on the ground, helping wounded victims or running away before the gunman was able to reload his weapon. Survivors said they were forced to run past bodies in the aisles and theater.
The gunman was armed with a rifle, a shotgun and two handguns, police said. Cellphone videos show panicked moviegoers running — some screaming — and others with blood visible.
The death toll was revised downward from an earlier figure of 14 dead given by police in Aurora, a suburb east of Denver.
Crowds of worried family members and friends were gathering at Denver-area hospitals, hoping to hear about their loved ones. According to images broadcast by local television, some held their heads down, and rocked back and forth as they sat on the sidewalk, as the sun rose.
The shooting came minutes after the 12:05 a.m. premiere showing of the widely anticipated premiere of "The Dark Knight Rises."
Eyewitnesses said the gunman entered the movie theater through the emergency exit door near the front of the screen in theater No. 9 at the Century 16 in Aurora. A witness, who declined to be identified, told The Times that the gunman then "threw a canister across the theater," unleashing gas, "then started shooting."
The witness said he saw a man two seats over who was shot in the head. "I can't get his image out of my head," the witness wrote in a message. The victim was wearing a shirt bearing the face of the Joker from the Batman series; after he was shot, he slumped back in his chair, his face covered in blood.
Witnesses told Denver's NBC affiliate, KUSA-TV 9News, that the tall, muscular gunman , wearing a riot helmet, gas mask and dressed all in black, said nothing as he entered the theater. Initially, spectators thought he was part of the show.
But witnesses described seeing him toss two canisters to the ground, and once they exploded, spectators began ducking or running out of the theater, an escape made difficult by the blinding gas.
"He looked so calm when he did it," a witness told 9News.
At one point, there was a pause in the shooting, when the gunman appeared to reload his weapon, and some spectators took that opportunity to flee, witnesses told the NBC affiliate. Witnesses described scenes of gunshot victims scrambling to escape the theater.
The Denver TV station played police dispatch audio of first-responders asking operators to ask for gas masks.
Some of the bullets pierced walls and traveled into the adjacent theater, No. 8, and injured people, 9News reported. A 3-month-old baby was taken to the hospital, but was not wounded by gunfire, 9News reported, quoting a hospital spokesperson. The TV station reported that the infant was checked and then released from the hospital.
"This is a horrific event," Aurora police chief Daniel J. Oates told reporters during a news conference. There was no evidence of a second gunman, Oates said.
The shooting came just after hundreds of theater-goers had lined up for hours, eager to see "The Dark Knight Rises," the third installment of director Christopher Nolan's Batman series.
Oates said 10 people were found dead in the theater.
The suspect was found outside the theater holding a rifle and a handgun, the TV station reported, quoting police.
9News reported that the suspect indicated to police that his apartment building might have explosives, and authorities were evacuating that structure and searching for possible explosives.
Warner Bros., the studio that produced the movie, said in a statement: “Warner Bros. is deeply saddened to learn about this shocking incident. We extend our sincere sympathies to the families and loved ones of the victims at this tragic time.”
President Obama released the following statement: "My administration will do everything that we can to support the people of Aurora in this extraordinarily difficult time. We are committed to bringing whoever was responsible to justice, ensuring the safety of our people, and caring for those who have been wounded. As we do when confronted by moments of darkness and challenge, we must now come together as one American family. All of us must have the people of Aurora in our thoughts and prayers as they confront the loss of family, friends, and neighbors, and we must stand together with them in the challenging hours and days to come."
Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, issued a statement shortly after Obama's saying he and his wife, Ann, were "deeply saddened by the news of the senseless violence."
Times staff writers Kathleen Hennessey and David Lauter contributed to this report.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times