AURORA, Colo. -- Bomb experts and law enforcement authorities successfully completed the first phase of their delicate, dangerous work Saturday morning dismantling the booby-trapped apartment of James E. Holmes, the suspect in the Colorado movie theater shooting.
[Updated at 10:52 a.m. PDT, July 21: At 11:40 a.m. MDT a controlled explosion was detonated inside the apartment after several blocks of nearby Peoria Street had been evacuated. A large concussion followed a cry of “fire in the hole!” by one of the personnel working to disable the explosives inside.]
“We have been successful in defeating the first threat, which includes defeating the tripwire and the first incendiary device,” said Aurora Police Department Sgt. Cassidde Carlson.
A tripwire was rigged to set off a device when someone entered the apartment, she said, adding that “it was set up to kill that person”
Experts are now reassessing their next moves as five apartment buildings surrounding Holmes’ apartment have been evacuated. The second phase could include a controlled detonation of devices inside, which would shut down at least one nearby street.
Authorities said Holmes’ tiny 800-square-foot apartment was spartanly furnished with a few pieces of furniture and some clutter and belongings in piles, all secondary to its real purpose: to serve as a death trap.
“This was definitely designed as a kill zone for first responders,” said a law enforcement official who declined to give his name because of the sensitivity of the investigation. “We presume that he didn’t know whether he would be killed by law enforcement at the scene of the movie theater.”
What Holmes left behind inside the three-story brick apartment building, authorities said, was designed as his final calling card. “He tried to lure people in here as a backup to his life, which he assumed would be ended by police,” the official said.
The official, who said he has reviewed videotape of the apartment taken Friday by a robot, called Holmes’ handiwork “somewhat sophisticated.”
“When you consider that 90% of the amateur explosive devices made in this nation are experimental in nature, made of pipe bombs using PVC or steel pipes with rudimentary fuses, what you see here is a very well-made booby trap,” the official said.
“There is evidence of attention to things, a level of sophistication. He was no expert, but there was some study involved.”
He said that Holmes will likely face a number of additional federal and state weapons charges from what authorities are finding in the apartment.
“There’s everything in there, including devices that combine liquids and ammunition.”
He said there were 30 aerial shells “that you might find in a fireworks display” along with some improvised grenades, jars containing accelerants, black powder and bullets.”
Officials were worried that any controlled blast they conducted inside the apartment might set off other devices, like a malevolent puzzle.
“You’re not dealing with military or commercial hardware here – those are stable. This is the work of an amateur and it definitely is not stable.”
By 9 a.m. MDT on Saturday, police had turned off electricity in the area and officers were climbing adjoining apartment buildings to assess wind direction.
Gopal Patek stood on the sidewalk just outside the police barricade with his 3-year-old son in his arms. The power had been cut to this apartment so he decided to come outside and take a look.
He shook his head in disgust at what he saw. His son pointed to the flashing police lights and told his father there must be a fire nearby. But Patek knew better.
Patek came to the U.S. from Germany three months ago. “Whenever I thought of America, it was always fanatics with guns and gang violence,” he said.
“Now that I’m here, I find an armed maniac in my neighborhood. I’m right on the edge. If I eve hear of gang violence on this street, that’s it – I’m going home.”