Aurora Theater Shooting 5 Years Later: 20 Stories We Posted the Day It Happened
File photo

Aurora Theater Shooting 5 Years Later: 20 Stories We Posted the Day It Happened

Five years ago today, James Holmes killed twelve people and injured seventy others during a screening of The Dark Knight Rises at the Century 16 theater in Aurora. In the 24 hours afterward, Westword published twenty stories that, when viewed in retrospect, capture the terror and confusion unleashed by this horrific crime.

From the beginning, inaccuracies were part of the package: Note that in our first post, we wrote that fourteen casualties had been "confirmed." The gusher of information that followed included details about victims and Holmes's booby-trapped apartment, as well as reactions from President Barack Obama and celebrities across the globe. But more heartbreaking were the expressions of grief from those directly impacted by the tragedy.

And that's not to mention all of the people who attempted to capitalize on the shooting, or tried to use it to advance their agendas.

In August 2015, Holmes was sentenced to twelve consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole, plus 3,318 years in the Department of Corrections. After assorted death threats in Colorado, he was moved to an undisclosed location. Meanwhile, prosecutor George Brauchler is running for governor of Colorado in 2018.

Continue to see excerpts from all twenty of our July 12, 2012, posts, complete with video and photos from that awful day. Links to the original items are included. Click to visit our complete Aurora Theater Shooting archive.

Videos: Aurora Century 16 shootings at The Dark Knight Rises
FRIDAY, JULY 20, 2012, AT 5:34 A.M., BY MICHAEL ROBERTS

Overnight, a gunman opened fire during a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises at the Aurora Town Center Century 16 movie complex. At this writing (and these numbers could well change, and change soon), fourteen people are confirmed dead, with an estimated fifty wounded, some said to be in critical condition. We'll continue to update this story. In the meantime, here are some early videos from YouTube, including cell phone footage that appears to have been shot at the scene of this shocking crime....

Aurora theater shooting at The Dark Knight Rises: Jessica Ghawi, radio intern, ID'd as victim
FRIDAY, JULY 20, 2012, AT 6:24 A.M., BY MICHAEL ROBERTS

Update: Family members and friends on Twitter are identifying one of the victims of the shooting at the Aurora Town Center Century 16 during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises as Jessica Ghawi, a 104.3 The Fan intern who tweeted under the name Jessica Redfield.

Chillingly, her last Twitter messages are from the theater where she is said to have died.

Here's one tweet from yesterday:

Aurora is finally a household name...for the wrong reason
FRIDAY, JULY 20, 2012, AT 7:25 A.M., BY PATRICIA CALHOUN

The City of Aurora and its booster group, Visit Aurora, have been working hard to advance the city's profile, pushing the upstart suburb just east of Denver out from under the shadow of its older, bigger sibling and making it a household name across the country. Today it is. But this is not what Aurora envisioned.

The shootings at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises took place at the Century 16, a theater complex in the Aurora Town Center, the slick development that replaced the decrepit Aurora Mall. In many ways, the Aurora Town Center really is the center of the sprawling city.

And now it's at the center of the country's attention, as everyone looks for an explanation of what propelled the shooter identified as James Holmes to commit this horrifying crime. Most of the headlines name-check Aurora as the site of the massacre, rather than tying it to a Denver suburb. "Aurora: 'Dark Night Rises' shootings have eerie overtones" in the Los Angeles Times. "12 shot dead at 'Dark Knight Rises' screening in Aurora, Colorado" on MSNBC.

Aurora has finally made its name. But this is not what it wanted — or what it deserves....

Photo: Young man shows off wounds he says he got at Aurora theater shooting
FRIDAY, JULY 20, 2012, AT 7:59 A.M., BY NICK LUCCHESI

The front page of Reddit.com right now is topped by this story: "i am one of the 50 wounded in the aurora theatre shooting. here are a few photos of my very lucky but nonetheless terrifying brush with death. my thoughts go out to those less fortunate than me."

Below are photos he shared with the online community. Warning: The images do contain blood.

Aurora theater shooting: James Holmes's apartment is booby-trapped, police chief says
FRIDAY, JULY 20, 2012, AT 9:13 A.M., BY NICK LUCCHESI

"His apartment is apparently booby-trapped."

Those were the words of Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates moments ago as he briefed the press about the apartment of James Holmes, 24, the shooter at the Dark Knight Rises premiere at Century Aurora 16 early this morning. Holmes, who is in police custody, lives at 17th Avenue and Peoria Street in Aurora in a third-floor apartment.

Five buildings around his have been evacuated, and police and the FBI have photos from inside the unit.

"We are trying to determine how to disarm the flammable or explosive material that's in there," Oates said this morning. "We could be here for hours, we could be here for days. We are very concerned about getting in there.

"The pictures are pretty disturbing. It looks pretty disturbing how it's booby-trapped"....

Neal Boortz, talk-show idiot, attacks Obama on Twitter for Aurora theater shooting statement
FRIDAY, JULY 20, 2012, AT 9:24 A.M., BY MICHAEL ROBERTS

You'd think that even partisan zealots would know when to muzzle themselves following a tragedy on the scale of the shooting at the Aurora Town Center Century 16 during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises. But not Neal Boortz, a right-wing talk-show host heard on five Colorado radio stations, who took to Twitter this morning to attack President Barack Obama for offering condolences to the victims of this dreadful event.

Here's the Obama 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.

And here's Boortz's Twitter reaction:

James Holmes rumor mill after Aurora shootings: More viral than Columbine
FRIDAY, JULY 20, 2012, AT 9:43 A.M., BY ALAN PRENDERGAST

In the aftershocks of the shootings at an Aurora theater that left twelve dead and dozens wounded, it's inevitable that the tragedy would evoke comparisons to the 1999 attack on Columbine High School. Certainly, the instant online speculation about the shooter and his motives is eerily reminiscent of all the (mostly bogus) chatter about the Trench Coat Mafia that emerged after Columbine. But these days, the rumor mill touched off by a horror like this is a much more accelerated — and treacherous — phenomenon....

Aurora Theater Shooting 5 Years Later: 20 Stories We Posted the Day It Happened
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Photos of James Holmes, medical school dropout and alleged Aurora theater shooter
FRIDAY, JULY 20, 2012, AT 10:40 A.M., BY MICHAEL ROBERTS

We can now give you a look at James Holmes, the man in custody in the wake of a shooting at the Aurora Town Center Century 16 during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises. This is a more recent shot, while one below is from a San Diego yearbook. Here it is:

A San Diego yearbook photo of James Holmes.
A San Diego yearbook photo of James Holmes.
File photo

Aurora theater shooting: Missy Franklin, The Fray and more react on Twitter
FRIDAY, JULY 20, 2012, AT 11:12 A.M., BY MICHAEL ROBERTS

Twitter lets folks from all walks of life share their thoughts about tragedies like the shooting at the Aurora Town Center Century 16, celebrities included. Many stars who've weighed in have connections to Colorado, including Olympic hopeful Missy Franklin, the Fray and budding minister Peter Tebow (nothing from Tim Tebow yet). But also posting are a wide variety of other notables, ranging from Eva Longoria (who was just here pitching for Obama), Billy Ray Cyrus, Mötley Crüe's Nikki Sixx, the Boston Red Sox and more....

Aurora theater shooting: "We are all just crying"
FRIDAY, JULY 20, 2012, AT 11:52 A.M., BY SAM LEVIN

People continue to gather at Gateway High School, where witnesses were taken after the attack — among them more and more panicked individuals trying to find out whether friends and loved ones were at the theater. Monica Lozano is one of them.

A short time ago, Lozano came rushing by with four kids by her side to see if her friend's daughter, eighteen-year-old Merari Garcia, was at the school.

"We're just trying to find out if she's here," she says. "She was going out last night and didn't let us know we're she was going. We don't know where she is."

She says Merari is not picking up the phone. They've called most hospitals and can't locate her.

This is a common story right now. Panic in Aurora....

Continue for ten more stories published by Westword on July 20, 2012, about the Aurora theater shooting.

James Holmes — not that James Holmes — gets Facebook slammed after Aurora theater attack
FRIDAY, JULY 20, 2012, AT 12:12 P.M., BY MICHAEL ROBERTS

In a post about the post-Columbine tragedy rumor mill, Alan Prendergast notes that people who share a name with James Holmes, the accused shooter in the attack on an Aurora theater screening of The Dark Knight Rises, would likely be inaccurately targeted via their Facebook page. And so it came to pass for a very different Colorado-based James Holmes, who posted a plea to those besieging him in an effort to get his online identity back....

This is a screen capture of the message:

Aurora Theater Shooting 5 Years Later: 20 Stories We Posted the Day It Happened
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Kim Kardashian-look dress didn't cause #Aurora to trend, Celeb Boutique admits
FRIDAY, JULY 20, 2012, AT 1:30 P.M., BY MICHAEL ROBERTS

Prepare your jaw to drop.

In the wake of the shooting at the Aurora Town Center Century 16 during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, the word "Aurora" began to trend on Twitter. Shortly thereafter, Celeb Boutique speculated by tweet that the reason had to do with one of its dresses, dubbed Aurora and inspired by Kim Kardashian....

Aurora theater shooting: 12 dead, 58 injured, chief won't address Joker rumors
FRIDAY, JULY 20, 2012, AT 2:05 P.M., BY MELANIE ASMAR

During a just-completed news conference about last night's shooting at the Aurora Town Center Century 16 during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates was asked by numerous national reporters to confirm reports that accused gunman James Holmes had identified himself as the Joker and dyed his hair to resemble the villainous character. Oates did not answer the question.

ABC News is reporting that when Holmes was taken into custody by police shortly after the rampage, he said he was the Joker. The information is credited to New York Police Department Commissioner Ray Kelly, who is also said to have told reporters that Holmes had colored his hair to resemble the character, most recently played in The Dark Knight by the late Heath Ledger....

Aurora theater shooting & disgusting questions about The Dark Knight Rises box office
FRIDAY, JULY 20, 2012, AT 3:42 P.M., BY MICHAEL ROBERTS

We understand that media outlets doing wall-to-wall coverage of last night's shooting at the Aurora Town Center Century 16 during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises have to look at every possible angle of the story.

But excuse me for being repulsed by stories speculating about whether the bloodshed will hurt the movie's chances for a blockbuster opening weekend.

The statement issued by Dark Knight Rises studio Warner Bros. on behalf of the company and the filmmakers, including director Christopher Nolan, wisely avoids any reference to filthy lucre. It reads: "Warner Bros. and the filmmakers are 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."

In recent hours, however, we're seeing more and more stories like the Fox News post "Could Colorado theater massacre hurt The Dark Knight Rises at the box office?" Among its bons mots: a comment from an industry source who thinks the flick may fall short of the $200 million mark for the weekend (oh no!), a reference to a stock-market dip for theater stocks (the horror!) and the suggestion that a post-rampage increase in security at movie complexes could lead to an increase in ticket prices (typical)....

Aurora Theater Shooting 5 Years Later: 20 Stories We Posted the Day It Happened
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Aurora theater shooting prompts volleys from pro-gun, anti-gun forces
FRIDAY, JULY 20, 2012, AT 4:54 P.M., BY MICHAEL ROBERTS

Whenever there's a shocking example of firearm mayhem like the shootings at the Aurora Century 16 theater, it doesn't take long for those on either side of the pistol-availability argument to start trying to make ideological points. Prime examples: Texas Representative Louie Gohmert, who wondered why no one in the theater had a gat other than the killer, and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which hurried out an Aurora-themed fundraising appeal....

Aurora theater shooting: One vigil tonight at 7 p.m., another Sunday at 6:30 p.m.
FRIDAY, JULY 20, 2012, AT 5:43 P.M., BY MELANIE ASMAR

There are now two vigils planned for the victims of the Aurora Century 16 theater shooting. One, at 7 p.m. tonight, is being hosted by local clergy members, according to Aurora Representative Rhonda Fields, who announced this morning that she'd be hosting a vigil tonight. Fields says she has now stepped away from the lead role and is coordinating with the City of Aurora to hold a second vigil on Sunday at 6:30 p.m.

Tonight's vigil is slated to take place outside Kaiser Permanente, 14701 East Exposition Avenue in Aurora, which is close to where the shooting occurred.

"Clergy is saying they don't want to wait two days to pray," Fields says. "So I am going to support their vigil by being out there"....

The scene from the apartment complex. Holmes lived in the top left corner apartment.
The scene from the apartment complex. Holmes lived in the top left corner apartment.
Photo by Dave Herrera

Aurora theater shooting: Neighbors of James Holmes forced to leave apartment building
FRIDAY, JULY 20, 2012, AT 6:49 P.M., BY DAVE HERRERA

Ben Leung just wants to get a shower. He really wishes he'd made a more appropriate wardrobe selection, especially since he's been standing around all day in the sweltering heat answering the same questions over and over. Then again, when the armed officers roused him at 2:30 a.m. today, he didn't think about grabbing some shorts.

"They pretty much just said, 'Put on some clothes, grab whatever you can," Leung recalls. "And I asked them what was going on, and they said, 'We don't really know, but we know that it's serious. It's going to be on the national news, and we need to get you out of here now, and we need to get you to safety"....

Aurora theater shooting: James Holmes did not drink at the Zephyr Lounge, says Myron Melnick
FRIDAY, JULY 20, 2012, AT 7:14 P.M., BY DAVE HERRERA

Earlier today, a media outlet interviewed a gentleman described as a bouncer at a bar that the accused Aurora Theater killer supposedly frequented. That particular interview didn't mention the name of the bar, but an earlier report on one of the TV stations did: the Zephyr Lounge.

As a result, the Zephyr — on Colfax between Peoria and Oswego — has been busy all day, with a steady stream of reporters posing the same questions, some with exotic accents, even. While fielding their queries, Mary, a notably friendly bartender, continues serving cold draught beers to the handful of regulars bellied up to the bar.

Melvin Evans is the man who claimed to have been working at the Zephyr a few Sundays ago when Holmes came in to listen to karaoke. But according to the bartender, Evans hasn't worked at the bar in years....

Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates on Friday night.
Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates on Friday night.
Photo by Melanie Asmar

Aurora theater shooting: James Holmes bought four guns in two months and 6k rounds of ammo
FRIDAY, JULY 20, 2012, AT 8:31 P.M., BY MELANIE ASMAR

James Holmes, the 24-year-old suspect in the Aurora theater shooting, legally bought four guns at metro gun shops in the last sixty days, Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates said at a press conference tonight. Holmes also bought more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition off the Internet, Oates said, including a one-hundred-round drum magazine that was recovered from the scene.

Police believe Holmes had four guns with him the night of the shooting: one AR-15 assault rifle, one Remington 870 12-gauge shotgun and two 40-caliber Glock handguns. Oates said Holmes purchased about 3,000 rounds of ammunition for the assault rifle, 3,000 rounds for the handguns and 300 rounds for the shotgun. He also purchased "multiple" magazines for the assault rifle, Oates said, including the one referenced above.

Oates said he's been told by experts that Holmes could have shot fifty to sixty rounds in a minute with the drum magazine, even if the weapon was only semi-automatic. He said the shots happened at a "pretty rapid pace"....

Aurora Theater Shooting 5 Years Later: 20 Stories We Posted the Day It Happened
Photo by Sam Levin

Aurora theater shooting: Hundreds gather and say prayers at vigil
FRIDAY, JULY 20, 2012, AT 10:10 P.M., BY SAM LEVIN

Nineteen hours after James Holmes fired shots during a midnight screening of The Dark Night Rises — bringing national media attention to Aurora and Colorado — hundreds gathered near the Aurora Town Center Century 16 this evening to honor the twelve individuals who died and dozens more who were injured in the tragedy.

And they prayed....

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