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As Colorado massacre probe continues, residents seek solace

July 22, 2012|By Mike Anton
  • Parishioners at the Queen of Peace Catholic Church look for answers, gathering in faith and prayer.
Parishioners at the Queen of Peace Catholic Church look for answers, gathering… (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)

Lugging shattered hearts and packing churches, they came seeking solace from the madness. Later, they were expected to fill a public square by the thousands for a massive community prayer vigil.

As authorities continued to amass evidence in Friday’s shooting massacre inside an Aurora movie theater, Coloradans on Sunday reached out for evidence of their faith.

At Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Aurora, nearly 1,500 people remembered parishioner A.J. Boik, who was among the 12 people killed during a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” at a suburban multiplex here. At least two other congregants were among the 58 wounded.

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"We live in a culture that promotes violence. The question is, what kind of people are we becoming?" said the Rev. Mauricio Bermudez. "This is our opportunity to change things, to do something different. Many of you know those who were killed or injured or who were there but by the grace of God were not."

Tannah Rich, 18, was there but was spared by grace, luck or coincidence — maybe all three.

Her mother, Michelle Chandler, went to Calvary Chapel in Aurora on Sunday still shell-shocked by her daughter's terrified phone call after the rampage.

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"She said, 'Mommy, Mommy' — she never calls me that anymore," Chandler, 41, said. "'Mommy, there's a man with a gun and he's shooting.'"

The exhausted teenager didn't change out of her clothes until the next morning. On the back of her shirt was a bloody handprint. 

Calvary Pastor Ed Taylor told Chandler, Rich and other congregants that 33 church members had been in the Century 16 multiplex when the killer strafed the crowd.

"I'm very, very happy God spared you," he said.

He also prayed for the families of the dead, the police and firefighters who swarmed the scene, even deputies at the jail where the alleged shooter, 24-year-old James E. Holmes, is being held.

Taylor said one deputy who attends Calvary told him it was a struggle to even look at the suspect. 

Holmes, police reiterated Sunday, is believed to have acted alone.

“All evidence we have, every single indicator is … he wasn’t particularly aided by anyone else,” Chief Dan Oates said Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation."

Holmes’ apartment was decorated with Batman paraphernalia and contained waist-high trip wires attached to more than 30 improvised grenades, a law enforcement official close to the case said Sunday. Nearby were 10 gallons of gasoline “to enhance the thermal effect.”

“If the devices including the 10 gallons of gasoline had gone off, the fireball alone would have blown up and consumed the entire third floor of the apartment building,” the official said.

After dismantling the bombs, police recovered a desktop computer in Holmes’ apartment.

“We’re hopeful that will yield some information,” Oates said on CBS.

Police on Sunday concluded the processing and collecting of evidence from inside Holmes’ apartment, but chemical hazards remain, Det. Shannon Youngquist-Lucy, a spokeswoman for the Aurora Police Department, said in a statement.

Building residents who were evacuated after the shooting are being allowed to retrieve personal items from their apartments, but Youngquist-Lucy could not say when it would be safe enough for them to move back home.

As for the theater where the shootings occurred, police had expected to return it to the owners on Wednesday but now say it could take up to a week to release the premises.

“This is for evidentiary purposes for case preparation,” Youngquist-Lucy.

Also Sunday, the Associated Press reported that the semiautomatic assault rifle used in the attack jammed, forcing the shooter to switch to less powerful weapons — a shotgun and a Glock pistol. The AR-15 assault-style rifle was equipped with a high-capacity ammunition magazine capable of firing 50 to 60 rounds a minute.

Holmes was arrested without incident in a nearby parking lot after the shooting. He was booked on suspicion of first-degree murder and is scheduled to appear in Arapahoe County Court on Monday.

Oates said on "Face the Nation" that there was one aspect of Holmes’ equipment that distinguished itself from what a SWAT officer responding to the scene would wear.

That distinction — which he wouldn’t elaborate on — is what attracted attention from officers, Oates said.

“In that chaos, it is quite reasonable that an officer might have confused him for a SWAT officer, a heavily armed officer who was responding to the scene,” he said. “So, kudos to my two cops that grabbed this guy and that sharp observation that they made immediately that led them to suspect him.”


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Staff writers Stephen Ceasar, Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Ashley Powers, Louis Sahagun and Alexandra Zavis, all in Aurora, Colo., contributed to this report.

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