Aurora Theater Shooting

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

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

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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. - FILE PHOTO
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.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts