On Friday 20th July 2012, at a midnight screening of the new Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises, in Aurora, Colorado, 12 people were shot dead and a further 58 wounded.
The man responsible was James Holmes, a 24-year-old Neuroscience PhD student from the University of Colorado- Denver, who had recently dropped out of his course.
Having bought a movie ticket, Holmes left the theatre and re-entered dressed as Bane, the film’s villain, wearing a gas mask and black body armour and equipped with over 6,000 rounds of ammunition. He had also painted his hair red and called himself The Joker.
Holmes threw a canister of tear gas into the crowd, who thought it was all part of the night’s events, until he began shooting. Witnesses reported that he was “slowly making his way up the stairs and just firing – picking random people.” Some of the bullets penetrated the wall between theatres, injuring at least one person in another screening.
Police arrested Holmes in the car park outside the cinema, where he was found with a rifle, a shotgun and two pistols. They also found his home to be booby-trapped with trip wires connected to bottles containing some kind of liquid, meaning that nearby homes had to be evacuated. The explosives would have killed anyone who entered through the door.
Neighbour Kaitlyn Fonzi described hearing loud music coming out of Holmes’ apartment just before the shootings. She said that, “I went upstairs to complain but there was no one there. The door wasn’t locked and I was going to poke my head in but chickened out. I’m glad I didn’t. We think the music was on a timer.” Fonzi now suspects that the music was used to try and provoke someone to enter the flat.
Reportedly, Holmes had acquired all of his weapons legally over the internet and Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates stated that he had stockpiled everything within 60 days before the attack. Oates added that the evidence suggests “calculation and deliberation”.
The events have sparked the debate on gun control. After initially staying silent on the matter, President Obama has now announced that he wants “common sense” steps in place so that “a mentally unbalanced individual should not be able to get his hands on a gun so easily”. The Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, said that he doesn’t think that new gun laws are needed.
Gun sales have actually increased by 43.5% since the shootings. Owner of Gunners Den in Colorado, Dick Rutan, told the Denver Post that, “What they’re saying is, they want to have a chance. They want to have the ability to protect themselves and their families if they are in a situation like what happened in the movie theatre”.
Holmes is being held at Arapahoe Detention Center, where he is in solitary confinement for his
own safety, as prison authorities believe that other inmates will attack him otherwise. One inmate said that, “He was spitting at everything.” Staff have also reported that he hasn’t expressed any remorse for his actions. In fact, he believes that he is actually acting in a movie.
On the night after the shooting spree, over 1,000 people held vigils outside the cinema and local churches to show respect for the victims of the attack.
In the wake of the tragedy, Warner Bros responded by cancelling several other premieres of The Dark Knight Rises. It also decided to delay publishing the weekend’s box office figures, “Out of respect for the victims and their families”. Other studios including Disney, Fox, Sony, Lionsgate and Universal followed in their footsteps. It has since been announced that the film made $160.9m over the weekend, making it the US’ third highest opening ever.
Director Christopher Nolan expressed the cast and crew’s “profound sorrow at the senseless tragedy that has befallen the entire Aurora community.” Star of the film, Christian Bale commented on the attack saying, “Words cannot express the horror that I feel. I cannot begin to truly understand the pain and grief of the victims and their loved ones, but my heart goes out to them”. Following an internet campaign to urge him to visit the victims, Bale went to Aurora where he thanked staff at the hospitals that were caring for the victims.
President Obama also visited the town, “not so much as President, [but as] a father and husband”, where he let it be known that the thoughts of the country were with the victims and their families. He said that he not only shared hugs and tears with the families but also laughs as they reminisced about the victims’ lives.
Holmes appeared in court on Monday. Bizarrely, he couldn’t seem to stay awake, giving rise to speculation that he was either drugged or faking it. It has been suggested that his lawyers may submit an insanity plea. If he is found to be mentally competent, he will face the death penalty; however that will be a decision made after consulting the families of the victims.
It has now been reported that Holmes had sent a notebook to his old university. The book contained crude drawings of stick figures as well as details of his upcoming attack. Officials at the university claimed that the package was received on Monday, and denied suggestions from Fox News that it was actually delivered on 12th July, and left unopened for over a week.