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In Colorado, 2 crime scenes after a night of terror

July 20, 2012|By Michael Muskal

The gunman who attacked movie-goers at an Aurora, Colo., theater early Friday had an assault rifle, a shotgun and two Glock pistols, state and local officials said at a televised news conference less than 12 hours after the incident. He wore a tactical armored vest, throat protector, groin protector, a gas mask and a ballistic helmet.

Even as officials spoke to the media at the midday news conference, police were studying two crime scenes: the movie theater that still contained the bodies of 10 of the 12 people who died and the apartment of the suspect, James Holmes. The latter had been booby-trapped with explosives and chemicals.

“We’ve taken a blow today, but we’ll get back on our feet,” Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan told reporters. Hogan was one several officials, including Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, angrily condemning what they called senseless shootings.

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The latest casualty figures remained grim. Twelve people were killed. Ten died in the theater; two died at hospitals. Fifty-nine were wounded, said Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates, adding that “many” were in critical condition.

The numbers varied but almost three dozen people remained at as many as six area hospitals. Some of the injured were children, taken by adults to see a movie starring a comic book hero. At University Hospital, spokesman Chris Casey said, 23 people were treated, ranging in age from 3 months to 45 years.

Police chief Oates walked reporters through the city’s night of horror. He would not discuss a possible motive for the shootings, but painted a conflicting portrait of suspect James Holmes, who went to school in the San Diego area and was a graduate student in neuroscience in Colorado.

Police in Aurora had only one contact with Holmes, and that resulted in a speeding ticket. Holmes had a similarly low profile in Riverside, Calif., with no contact with police while attending the university there. He graduated with honors in spring 2010 with a bachelor's degree in neuroscience, according to Riverside officials.

Oates described the gunman as very deliberate and calculating when he entered Theater 9 of the Century 16 complex around 12:30 a.m. Friday -- about 25 minutes into the film.

The gunman wore protective armor around his body, neck and groin, a helmet and a gas mask as he faced the audience. He then set off two gas canisters, containing an irritant, and opened fire with an assault rifle, a shotgun and at least one .40-caliber Glock pistol. What many thought was part of a stunt quickly turned deadly.

“He didn’t say anything,” said Tayler Trujillo, 18, part of the audience. “He kicked the door open with his foot and held it open with his foot and he threw something and it landed in the row in front of me. Then it, like, went off -- kind of like a firework -- and gas filled the room. All you heard was ‘Get down! Get down!’

“I felt like I couldn’t breathe, my eyes were really super watery,” she said.

“And then shots just started being fired, so many, and it stopped for a second, and everybody was, like ‘Go! Go! Go!’ but then he started to fire again and then I had to go back down,” Trujillo said. “Honestly, I just started praying. I thought I was going to die.”

By 12:39 a.m. Friday, “hundreds of calls” had come into authorities about the shootings. Twenty-five officers responded within 90 seconds; that number quickly grew to more than 200 officers, Oates said.

Holmes was apprehended in the parking lot near his white Hyundai, surrendering without “any significant incident to our officers,” Oates said. In all, Oates said, police recovered four weapons, including two Glocks, though it was unclear which had been fired in the theater.

“I’ve been asked how many rounds were fired,” the police chief said at the televised news conference. “We lack the capability right now to calculate the number of rounds fired.”

Authorities have interviewed more than 200 witnesses, Oates said, and were continuing their investigation at the primary crime scene, the theater. “We will be in theater quite some time, working the crime scene,” Oates said.

Police were also trying to search Holmes’ apartment on Paris Street in Aurora, but were being careful because it was rigged with explosives and chemicals. Authorities used a hook-and-ladder fire truck to reach Holmes' apartment and put a camera at the end of a 12-foot pole to peer inside. They saw what Oates described as incendiary devices, chemicals and lots of wires.

“It's something I've never seen before,” Oates said.

Authorities have evacuated five buildings as they try to figure how to disarm the booby trap.

Staff writers Laura J. Nelson, Rick Rojas and  Phil Willon contributed to this report as did special correspondent Matt Pearce

ALSO:

Parents of alleged Colorado shooter: 'Hearts go out' to victims

Not again: Movie theater massacre unfolds 15 miles from Columbine

'Dark Knight' shooting suspect's neighbor: 'He seemed like a normal kid'

Join Michael on Google+. Email: michael.muskal@latimes.com

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