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Real-Life Horror: Many Killed, Dozens Wounded At Colorado Movie Theater

A midnight screening of the new Batman movie The Dark Knight Rises turned into a horribly real scene of death and destruction in Aurora, Colo., early Friday when a gunman opened fire on the audience killing 12.

Witnesses said the shooter came into the theater dressed in black after the film had already started. He threw a cans with either smoke or chemical irritants into the auditorium and the opened fire. Police say the gunman used a rifle, a shotgun and a handgun during the rampage. They said he was wearing a gas mask and a tactical ballistic vest that was bullet resistant.

Jennifer Seeger told the The Today Show that what followed was "mass chaos."

Benjamin Fernandez, a 30-year-old witness, told The Denver Post that people ran from the theater as police shouted "get down." He said he saw "people falling, including one young girl."

When police entered auditorium number nine, they found carnage. To the dispatcher, they described watching people run out of the suburban multiplex with gunshot wounds. At midday, Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates said there were 12 fatalities and about 58 people were injured, mostly by gunshots. A suspect, who law enforcement officials say is a 24-year man named James Holmes, was arrested shortly after the rampage. He's thought to have acted alone. The gunman's apartment has been rigged with explosive booby traps, police say, so authorities have evacuated the nearby area.

President Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney each set aside their campaigns and urged Americans reach out to each other in this time of mourning.

"Evil is overcome," said Romney, with "the goodness and compassion of a wounded community."

President Obama said that while we may never understand why something like this happens, what we know, he said, is "what makes life worth living."

One victim has been identified. She is 24-year-old Jessica Ghawi who had survived a mass shooting in Toronto last month.

We've been followed this story throughout the day. To see how it unfolded, keep reading.

Update at 7:30 a.m. ET, July 21: We've started a new post to continue following the story on Saturday.

Update at 9:24 p.m. ET. Suspect Bought 6,000 Rounds Of Ammunition:

During a press briefing moment ago, Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates said the suspected gunman bought four guns at local shops during the past 60 days. On the Internet, the suspect also bought more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition and a magazine that held 100 rounds.

Oates said that with that magazine, the shooter could have shot 50 to 60 rounds in one minute.

Oates also provided updated numbers: 70 were injured total. 12 have died and 58 people were hurt. Most of them, he said, suffered gunshot wounds.

Police have met with some family members and they expect to notify all family within the next hour.

Calling it a "vexing problem," Oates said that police have delayed entering the suspect's apartment until tomorrow.

"From the pictures we've gotten, I've never seen anything like that," Oates said. He said the apartment was full of wires, and jars full of ammunition. Some things look like mortar rounds, he said.

Oates said he could not talk about a motive, yet.

At the top of the press conference, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper promised that the community would "rise up."

"We're not going to let this community be defined by such an" act, he said.

The next update from police will come Saturday. We will be back early tomorrow morning with more live blogging. The suspect is also scheduled to make his first court appearance tomorrow morning.

Update at 9:00 p.m. ET. Press Conference Coming Up:

Any moment now, Gov. John Hickenlooper and Aurora Police Chief will give a press conference from Colorado. We will update this post with the latest.

Update at 7:46 p.m. ET. Looking For The Missing:

As the chaos of the aftermath subsides, now begins the grim task of notifying the families of those killed. The AP reported a bit earlier that police had begun removing the bodies of the 10 victims from the movie theater.

The Denver Post reports on a very sad scene. The paper says that police established a staging area for 200 witnesses at a local high school. But around the perimeter, family members who have been unable to contact their loved ones have gathered.

Some of those gathered were Alex Sullivan's parents and friends.

"We've been calling his phone all day, and it's been going to voice mail. I just don't know," Bryan Beard told the paper.

Sullivan was celebrating his 27th birthday at the screening.

His family, reported the Post, is hoping that he's alive, "missing somewhere and that they missed him at the hospital."

But for now, they wait.

Update at 6:02 p.m. ET. Weapons Were Legally Bought:

NPR's Carrie Johnson reports:

"A federal law enforcement source confirms the four weapons recovered from the Holmes vehicle and the movie theater were legally purchased over the past few months, in case you didn't already get this from the local Aurora Police Department."

Update at 3:40 p.m. ET. At Holmes' Apartment, Booby Traps And A Song Playing Over And Over:

"Police found Holmes' north Aurora apartment booby-trapped, the same song playing on repeat on his stereo," The Denver Post reports. Neighbors, The Wall Street Journal writes, "said electronic music suddenly started blaring shortly after midnight from Mr. Holmes's apartment, at the top floor of an old, red-brick building."

Witness talks to 'The Today Show'

Update at 2:20 p.m. ET. It Was "Mass Chaos."

Jennifer Seeger told The Today Show that she was in the second row of the theater when the gunman walked in. He was "5 feet away from me," she said.

She said the gunman threw a can of some sort of gas and then shot up at the ceiling. Then "he pointed the gun right at me," at which point, Seeger said, she she dove into the aisle.

There were shell casings falling on her head, Seeger said: "It was like burning my head it was so fresh." And, it was "mass chaos."

Update at 2:10 p.m. ET. Suspect Was Wearing Helmet, Vest, Gas Mask:

When he was arrested, Holmes was wearing a "ballistic helmet," ballistic vest, gas mask and other protective gear, Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates just said. The suspect surrendered to officers when they approached him outside the rear of the theater, according to the chief. Investigators don't know yet how many rounds were fired inside the theater. As for Holmes, the only previous encounter Aurora police had with him was a speeding ticket issue last October, said Oates.

Update at 1:55 p.m. ET. Estimate Of Number Shot Increased To 71:

Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates just told reporters that "71 people were shot and 12 are deceased." That's a sharp increase in the number of victims — earlier police had said about 50 people were shot.

Oates also said that the first calls about the shooting rampage came into police at 12:39 a.m. MT and that police were on the scene in "one minute to one minute and a half." They apprehended Holmes "at the back of the theater," he confirmed. One weapon was left inside the theater and three more were found in Holmes' car, Oates said. They were: an "AR-15" assault rifle, a shotgun and two Glock handguns.

Update at 1:48 p.m. ET. Act Of "A Very Deranged Mind:"

Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) just told reporters in Aurora that the "senseless tragedy was the act, "apparently, of a very deranged mind."

Update at 1:45 p.m. ET. News Conference Coming Up:

Authorities including Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates, Gov. John Hickenlooper and FBI Special Agent James Yacone are due to speak with reporters shortly. We'll monitor and add highlights.

Update at 12:50 p.m. ET. After This "Hateful Act," Romney Says This Is Time To Reflect On "How Much We Love One Another:"

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney just said at an event in Bow, N.H., that "our hearts break with the sadness of this unspeakable tragedy. ... Ann and I join the president and first lady and all Americans in offering our deepest condolences" to the victims and their families.

After such a "hateful act," Romney said, it's important to reflect on "how much we love one another and how much we love and care for our great country."

"Evil is overcome," said Romney, with "the goodness and compassion of a wounded community." We will all, he said, "hold our kids a little closer" after this tragedy. And he urged Americans to "offer comfort to someone near us who is suffering or mourning."

The photo of James Holmes released by the University of Colorado Denver.
/ University of Colorado Denver
University of Colorado Denver
The photo of James Holmes released by the University of Colorado Denver.

Update at 12:30 p.m. ET. Photo Of James Holmes:

The University of Colorado Denver / Anschutz Medical Campus has released a statement confirming that Holmes enrolled at the school in June 2011 and "was in the process of withdrawing from the University of Colorado Denver's graduate program in neurosciences." It also released a photo of Holmes.

Update at 11:55 a.m. ET. Witness Accounts On The Web:

The Atlantic runs through the way some witnesses and victims used Twitter, Reddit and other platforms to get the story out — including photos of what they say are their own injuries. The links take you to some graphic images and compelling tales. And on Reddit, by the way, there are some "comprehensive timelines" of the Aurora news. There are some valuable links sprinkled through them.

Update at 11:40 a.m. ET. Military Personnel Among Victims:

"Some members of the military were either killed or wounded" in the shooting, Pentagon spokesman George Little says, according to the AP. It isn't clear yet how many.

Update at 11:30 a.m. ET. School Says Holmes Was A Med Student Until Recently; His Family :

The Associated Press is reporting that "the suspect in a mass shooting at a Colorado movie theater dropped out of medical school last month. Spokeswoman Jacque Montgomery says 24-year-old James Holmes was a student at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver until last month. She did not know when he started school or why he withdrew."

Meanwhile, San Diego's Fox5-TV says Holmes family, which lives in the San Diego area, has issued a statement saying their hearts go out to the victims. The station is live-streaming its coverage here.

Update at 11:20 a.m. ET. Suspect Due In Court On Monday:

"9NEWS has confirmed Holmes is scheduled to appear in court to face charges Monday afternoon," Denver's KUSA-TV reports.

Update at 11 a.m. ET. "Pretty Sophisticated" Explosive Devices Found At Suspect's Apartment, Police Say:

While CNN reported earlier that no explosives had been found at Holmes' apartment, The Denver Post now writes that:

"Police say that the apartment of the suspect ... appears to be booby trapped. [Aurora] Police Chief Dan Oates said the explosive devices were 'pretty sophisticated.'

" 'We could be here for days,' he said."

Update at 10:45 a.m. ET. Obama Says Tragedy Reminds Us "We Are United:"

Speaking in Florida moments ago, President Obama said "this morning, we woke up to news of a tragedy that reminds us of all the ways that we are united as one American family."

"Such violence, such evil is senseless," he added. But the tragedy, he said, reminds us that what's important is "how we treat one another and how we love one another." The president noted this his daughters go to the movies. He and the first lady will "hug our girls a little tighter tonight," Obama said, and the nation needs to embrace the victims "and let them know we will be there for them as a nation." Today, Obama said, is not a day for politics.

Update at 10:40 a.m. ET. "Quiet And Easy Going":

According to The Denver Post Holmes "described himself in an apartment rental application last year as a student who was 'quiet and easy going.' "

Update at 10:25 a.m. ET. CNN Says No Explosives Were Found At Suspect's Apartment:

According to its sources, CNN says, authorities have found no explosives at the suspect's apartment. The Denver Post isn't reporting that development yet, however.

Update at 9:20 a.m. ET. Obama Cancels Event In Florida; Will Speak About Shootings:

The White House says President Obama has canceled a campaign event planned for this afternoon in Winter Park, Fla., and that later this morning he will "address the tragedy in Aurora." Then, the president will return to the White House from Florida.

Update at 8:50 a.m. ET. Suspect Named:

Two federal law enforcement sources with knowledge of the investigation have told NPR's Carrie Johnson that the suspect's name is James Holmes. The Associated Press said it has been told by sources that he is "a 24-year-old white American."

Update at 8:35 a.m. ET. Raw Video From Outside The Theaters:

The Denver Post has a short video clip of the scene outside the theaters shortly after the shooting.

Update at 8:25 a.m. ET. Numbers Revised; 12 "Confirmed Dead;" About 38 Injured:

As often happens in the early hours of a tragedy such as this, the news is changing. Aurora police just released a statement saying that there were "approximately 50 victims, with at least 12 confirmed dead." The statement adds that police "arrested one party at the rear of the theater."

Update at 8:10 a.m. ET. Four Weapons Reportedly Recovered:

NPR's Carrie Johnson tells our Newscast Desk that federal law enforcement officials say a rifle, a shotgun and two handguns were recovered at the movie theater. She also reports that officials say the suspect's apartment "appears to be booby trapped." Explosives experts are on the scene.

Update at 8 a.m. ET. Youngest Person Injured Is 3-Months-Old.

According to the AP: "At least 48 people are being treated at Denver area hospitals after a mass shooting a movie theater — the youngest a 3-month-old baby."

Steve Inskeep speaks with witness Chayyiel Jackson

Update at 7:50 a.m. ET. Witness: "Thank God I Wasn't On The Right Side."

Chayyiel Jackson of Aurora told Morning Edition that he was up front, on the left side of the theater, when the gunman came in from an exit door on the right side. The man, clad all in black, threw some sort of gas canister and then began firing.

At first he thought it might be a stunt. Then Jackson saw the flashes of gunfire. "I just ducked down and ran out," he said. "Thank God I wasn't on the right side."

Update at 7:40 a.m. ET. FBI Says There's No Sign Of Connection To Terrorism.

The AP just moved this alert:

"FBI: No indication in Colo. shooting probe so far of any connection to terrorism."

Update at 7:35 a.m. ET. Suspected Hinted That He'd Left Bombs Elsewhere:

Ben Markus of Colorado Public Radio tells our Newscast Desk that it's being reported that the suspect "hinted to officers that there may be an explosive device in his apartment or the parking lot of the mall."

Update at 7:20 a.m. ET. "He Looked So Calm When He Did It":

KUSA-TV has posted a video interview with two young men who describe what they say they saw inside the theater. "He looked so calm when he did it," one of the young men, identified as Trey Freeman, says of the shooter.

They say the shooter said nothing as he began firing. He was wearing all black, including some kind of mask.

Update at 7:15 a.m. ET. News Briefing Set For 1 P.M. ET:

Aurora police have scheduled a news briefing for 11 a.m. MT. That's 1 p.m. ET.

Update at 7:10 a.m. ET. "I Thought It Was Pretty Much The End Of The World":

The shooting happened in Theater 9 — one of 16 screens at the movie complex and one of three that was showing Dark Knight Rises. Robert Jones, 28, told the Post that he was in Theater 9.

"Jones said when he first saw smoke billowing from the front of the theater, he thought it was a special effect. Shots rang out almost immediately after.

" 'I thought it was pretty much the end of the world,' Roberts said."

Update at 7:05 a.m. ET. Live Coverage From Denver:

KUSA-TV is streaming its coverage here.

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.