The time is roughly 12:30am. The theatre is packed with enthusiastic fans, birthday revelers, costumed super fans, couples, singles, parents, and children. All are enjoying the opening minutes of one of the most highly-anticipated films of the season. Relatively unnoticed, a costumed man stands, walks to the rear external exit and leaves, propping the door open. Minutes later he reenters, tossing a chemical-spewing canister into the dark theatre and fires a weapon at the ceiling. You have only a fraction of a second to tear yourself away from the fantasy on the screen and come to terms with the horror that is unfolding right in front of you. What do you do?
This is the all-too-real situation that hundreds of moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado faced last night at the midnight opening of The Dark Knight Rises, the latest installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy.
In the next few seconds the throng inside the Century 16 theatre realized that this was not an elaborate part of the opening night festivities, but was in fact a very real life or death situation. The auditorium quickly descended into chaos as the gunman leveled his AR-15 rifle and began to spray bullets into the panicking crowd. Screams drowned out the soundtrack as the movie continued to play in the background. The screen action was upstaged by that in the audience as bullets ripped through flesh, movie seats, and even the walls into an adjoining theatre striking patrons in the next auditorium.
Chris Ramos, who was in the audience said it was something “straight out of a horror film.” He went on to say that the gunman was just “shooting everybody, like hunting season.” Another survivor recounted seeing a man crawling on his hands and knees to escape, a girl spitting up blood, and seeing victims with noticeable bullet wounds in their arms and backs.
Almost immediately frantic calls started flooding 911 from inside the theatre as some patrons managed to work their phones in the midst of the chaos and once they escaped the theatre. Within minutes of the first 911 call, police, paramedics, and emergency crews arrived on the scene. “I don’t know how else to explain it. It’s horrific,” exclaimed Tracy Lauzon, director of EMS and trauma services at the Aurora Medical Center.
The shooter, whose identity has yet to be released, was found among some cars behind the theatre. He was dressed all in black and still armed with a knife, handgun and rifle. He was also wearing body armor. According to Frank Fania, a spokesman for the Aurora police department, “He did not resist. He did not put up a fight.”
Inside the theatre 10 patrons lay dead and 60 injured. Two of those injured would later die of their wounds at the hospital. Among the 12 who lost their lives where a 6-year-old girl and Alex Sullivan who was celebrating his 27th birthday with seven co-workers from Red Robin restaurant. Sullivan was killed in the theatre and all seven of his co-workers suffered wounds in the attack. The youngest victim was just four months old. Fortunately, the infant was treated at the hospital and then released.
Upon hearing of the tragedy, President Obama was quick to cancel campaign events in Florida saying “There will be other days for politics.” He went on to issue a statement saying: “Michelle and I are shocked and saddened by the horrific and tragic shooting in Colorado. Federal and local law enforcement are still responding, and my Administration will do everything that we can to support the people of Aurora in this extraordinarily difficult time…We must now come together as one American family.” Flags at the White House were ordered to half staff Friday in honor of those who lost their lives.
No motive is known for the attack. Although the attack appears to have been premeditated, it is believed that the gunman was acting alone. According to law enforcement the gunman’s previous record consisted only of a traffic summons. The FBI will be assisting in the ongoing investigation.
This area unfortunately is not new to tragedy such as this. Aurora is just 13 miles away from Littleton, Colorado where the story of the massacre at ColumbineHigh School rocked the nation in 1999. In that school shooting, the worst in U.S. history at the time, two teenage gunmen killed 13 and wounded an additional 23 before turning their guns on themselves.