Law enforcement authorities in Colorado have begun to piece together details of a movie theater shooting that killed 12 people and wounded 38 others.
So far, they say, the episode involved a single shooter not connected to foreign terrorism. Colorado has many military bases, and military authorities were quick to report that the suspect had no prior Army experience.
What authorities know so far is that a 24-year-old man identified as James Holmes entered the Century Aurora 16 theater in the Denver suburb of Aurora during a midnight premier showing of "The Dark Knight Rises," the latest Batman movie.
Witnesses said the shooter, dressed in black, entered by an exit, tossed some kind of gas canister, then began shooting.
"I think we were 15 minutes in, and there was a chase scene where there was gunfire on screen," Quentin Caldwell told CNN. "And right then out of nowhere on the right side of us we hear a very distinct 'pop, pop, pop, pop.' "
Following the rampage, police apprehended the suspect – who did not resist arrest – outside the theater. They retrieved a rifle, a shotgun, and two pistols, and they were searching the suspect’s residence for the presence of explosives.
President Obama, who had spent the night in Florida as part of a campaign trip, was notified of the shooting early Friday morning by Homeland Security Advisor John Brennan. Mr. Obama issued the following statement:
“Michelle and I are shocked and saddened by the horrific and tragic shooting in Colorado. Federal and local law enforcement are still responding, and my Administration will do everything that we can to support the people of Aurora in this extraordinarily difficult time. We are committed to bringing whoever was responsible to justice, ensuring the safety of our people, and caring for those who have been wounded. As we do when confronted by moments of darkness and challenge, we must now come together as one American family. All of us must have the people of Aurora in our thoughts and prayers as they confront the loss of family, friends, and neighbors, and we must stand together with them in the challenging hours and days to come.”
At a previously scheduled campaign event in Florida, President Obama said the shooting "reminds us of all the ways that we are united as one American family." He asked for a moment of silence Friday and focused his shortened remarks exclusively on the tragedy.
"Ann and I are deeply saddened by the news of the senseless violence that took the lives of 15 people in Colorado and injured dozens more. We are praying for the families and loved ones of the victims during this time of deep shock and immense grief. We expect that the person responsible for this terrible crime will be quickly brought to justice."
At first, many in the theater thought the smoke and shooting was part of a stunt.
Then they saw a silhouette of a person near the screen, first pointing a gun at the crowd and then shooting.
"There were bullet [casings] just falling on my head. They were burning my forehead," Jennifer Seeger told the Associated Press, adding that the gunman, dressed like a SWAT team member, fired steadily except when he stopped to reload.
"Every few seconds it was just: Boom, boom, boom," she said. "He would reload and shoot and anyone who would try to leave would just get killed."
It was the worst mass shooting in Colorado since the Columbine High School massacre on April 20, 1999. Students Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, opened fire at the school in the Denver suburb of Littleton, about 15 miles west of Aurora, killing 12 classmates and a teacher and wounding 26 others before killing themselves.
Police in New York have intensified security around showings of the film throughout the five boroughs today, ABC News reported, with police commissioner Ray Kelley saying that "as a precaution against copycats and to raise the comfort levels among movie patrons in the wake of the horrendous shooting in Colorado, the New York City Police Department is providing coverage at theaters where the 'The Dark Knight Rises' is playing."
The Paris premiere of the movie has been cancelled in the wake of the shootings. "Warner Bros. is deeply saddened to learn about this shocking incident. We extend our sincere sympathies to the families and loved ones of the victims at this tragic time," the movie's producers, said in a statement.
The FBI as well as local law enforcement authorities are involved in the investigation, including interviews with the suspect’s friends and neighbors.
A California woman who identified herself as the mother of James Holmes told ABC News her son was likely the culprit, saying, "You have the right person."
The woman, contacted at her home in San Diego, spoke briefly with ABC News and immediately expressed concern her son may be involved in the shooting death of at least 12 people overnight.
"You have the right person," she said. "I need to call the police…. I need to fly out to Colorado."