Loading articles...

CityNews Rewind 2012: Colorado gunman opens fire at Batman movie

Tom Sullivan, centre, embraces family members outside Gateway High School where he had been searching for his son who celebrated his by going to see "The Dark Knight Rises," July 20, 2012. AP/Barry Gutierrez

The horrific rampage at a Connecticut elementary school on Dec. 14 stirred awful memories of another mass shooting that happened just four months earlier, when a gunman opened fired at a midnight screening of a Batman film at a Colorado mall, killing 12 people and injuring 58 others.

On July 20, when James Eagan Holmes allegedly walked through the back door of theatre 9 at the Century 16 multiplex in the Denver suburb of Aurora that was showing The Dark Knight Rises and opened fire on the audience.

The rampage is among the worst mass shootings in American history and the worst in Colorado since the 1999 shooting at Columbine high school.

Click here to read other stories in our CityNews Rewind 2012 series.

The shooter was clad in body armour, including a gas mask, tactical gloves and a bulletproof vest. Some audience members thought it was part of the theatrics of the Batman opening, but quickly came to grips with the situation when the killer tossed gas canisters and started firing using three weapons.

A rifle used during the attack reportedly jammed, forcing the gunman to switch to a weapon with less firepower which inadvertently saved lives. Police claim the shooter purchased a ticket to the film, but minutes after the movie started went out to his car to get his armour and firearms.

Shockingly, there was a Toronto connection to the massacre as a woman who narrowly escaped the Eaton Centre shooting was among the victims.

Jessica Ghawi, an aspiring sports journalist, had recently returned to the United States after visiting her Markham boyfriend Jay Meloff.

“I didn’t believe it at first. I didn’t want to believe it,” Meloff told CityNews .

He said he spoke with her just moments before she entered the theatre. After the June 2 shooting at the Eaton Centre, Ghawi wrote on her blog that a “weird feeling” prompted her to leave the mall just minutes before the gunfire erupted.

The Colorado shooting prompted Toronto movie theatres showing the film to heighten security as a precaution but Batman fans were undeterred by the violence south of the border.

“It seems like a pretty isolated event,” said Gavin Whelehan, who was planning to see a weekend matinee showing of The Dark Knight Rises downtown. “I actually did try to come yesterday (July 20) but it was sold out, so I’m back.”

AMC Theatres banned Canadian customers from wearing super hero costumes and masks to screenings.

Back in Aurora, Colo. police arrested the suspected shooter at his car in the multiplex parking lot right after the attack. A search of his home revealed sophisticated booby traps and dangerous chemicals, police said.

Holmes, 25, is awaiting trial on multiple murder, attempted murder and explosives charges for the massacre. Prosecutors are considering pushing for the death penalty.

Legal analysts believe the question of Holmes’ sanity will dominate the court proceedings. Holmes lawyers insist he suffers from mental illness and sought help before the rampage. He hasn’t yet filed a plea.

His mug shot, released days after the shooting, showed Eagan with his hair dyed bright orange. The accused looked stunned and confused during his first court appearance three days after the rampage.

Last month officials delayed a scheduled pretrial hearing after Holmes was hospitalized. Some reports suggested he’d attempted suicide in his prison cell.

Holmes was doctoral neuroscience student at the University of Colorado. He dropped out a year into the program for unknown reasons.  He allegedly began stockpiling weapons in the months before the shooting and police claim he bought thousands of rounds of ammunition online.

Lawyers for the accused planned to subpoena a Fox News reporter to reveal her source after she filed a story claiming Holmes had sent U of Colorado psychiatrist Lynne Fenton, who saw him as a patient, a notebook outlining his massacre plan days before the shooting.

Holmes’ lawyer Dale King claims the report violated a gag order imposed by a judge.

Holmes’ preliminary hearing starts Jan. 7 when prosecutors will for the first time lay out their case against the accused murderer.

With files from Reuters

Click here to read other stories in our CityNews Rewind 2012 series.