24-year-old gunman James Holmes entered a screening of "The Dark Knight Rises" in Aurora, Colo., and, wearing a gasmask and riot gear, opened fire on the audience. 50 moviegoers are injured and at least 12 confirmed dead after the brutal attack.
The massacre occurred at the Century 16 Movie Theaters at the Aurora Town Center, just 10 miles east of downtown Denver. About twenty minutes into the Batman film, Holmes, armed with two handguns and an assault rifle, threw a tear gas canister into the theater, and then proceeded to shoot, selecting victims at random as the people, terrified and confused, tried to run toward the exit.
It was initially unclear to people that this was real, because the attack happened during a shoot-out scene in the film. But as witness Jennifer Seeger remarked, "It was mass chaos. He threw in the gas can, and then I knew it was real.
"Everyone's going for the [exit] and then everyone starts saying, 'No, he's going to shoot people who are going for the door,' and he did. They [were] trying to escape, and he shot them."
Another witness, identified as Pam, recalled Holmes "slowly making his way up the stairs and just firing - picking random people. I'm pretty sure he was wearing a mask." He entered by kicking in an exit door near the front row, she said.
The suspect was apprehended in the theater's parking lot, officials reported. Ammunition was found in Holmes' car. Police believe there are no additional suspects involved. "We're pretty confident he acted alone," said officer Frank Fania.
Holmes apartment building was also evacuated after he revealed he had booby-trapped his home with explosives. Holmes was not previously on any federal law enforcement watch lists, and it's believed there is no link to terrorism, officials added.
President Obama was notified of the incident, and released a statement, saying, "Michelle and I are shocked and saddened by the horrific and tragic shooting in Colorado. 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."
A San Diego woman identifying herself as Holmes' mother spoke to ABC News, expressing fears that her son was indeed involved. "You have the right person," she said. "I need to fly out to Colorado."
The assault was particularly disturbing as there were many children present at the theater, according to reports. "When I tried to escape," said eyewitness Seeger, "there was a little girl - 12 or 13 - just laying lifeless on the stairs."
Another witness said she saw a girl who appeared to be about nine years old struck by a bullet to the stomach.
The incident is considered to be the worst mass shooting in the U.S. since 2007's Virginia Tech massacre, and furthermore the worst massacre in Colorado since the Columbine High School shooting in 1999.
In this case, the killer may have been attempting to imitate the "Dark Knight Rises" film, which centers on the murderous, gasmask-wearing terrorist, Bane.
The onslaught highlights the lax gun laws in Colorado, and implies a need to carefully examine and reassess them. Coloradoans do not require a state permit in order to purchase long guns or handguns, nor are owner licenses or firearm registrations required. And while Denver in particular has an "assault weapon ban," that regulation does not exist everywhere in the state. Finally, in most areas of the state, a gun can be freely carried without a permit.
Those lenient gun regulations were among the factors cited in the Columbine Massacre, and it appears they have once again contributed, however indirectly, to a Colorado tragedy.
In light of this event, the red carpet premiere of "The Dark Knight Rises" in Paris this evening has been cancelled. Director Christopher Nolan and actors Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, and Morgan Freeman, who are there to promote the film, have pulled out of media interviews.
Director Michael Moore also commented on the tragedy. "Having spent much time in the Aurora/Denver/Littleton area over the years," he remarked, "I am too sad about this most recent tragedy to comment at the moment, other than to say this:
"I fear anthropologists and historians will look back on us and simply say we were a violent nation, at home and abroad, but in due time human decency won out and the violence ceased, but not before many, many more died and the world had had it's fill of us.
"Thoughts, prayers, and whatever comfort can be found for the victims and their families."
Photo: The Century 16 theater was the site of the tragic shooting. Karl Gehring/The Denver Post & AP