Aurora Theater Shooting

James Holmes case: Inside three victims' lawsuits against Aurora theater

Within days of the Aurora theater shooting, announcements were made about possible lawsuits over the horrific attack, in which James Holmes is accused of killing twelve people and injuring 58. Now, however, two suits have been filed against the theater's owner by a total of three surviving victims. The documents, on view below, juxtapose legal demands with harrowing accounts of the massacre.

One suit is filed under the names of two people, Denise Traynom and Brandon Axelrod, while the second lists Joshua Nowlan as the plaintiff. However, the defendant in each is the same -- Cinemark USA, doing business as the Century Aurora 16. And the law firm is identical, too: It's Denver-based Keating Wagner Polidori Free, P.C. The suits were filed in United States District Court for the District of Colorado.

The "General Allegations" sections of the documents are also similar. The suits maintain that Cinemark "had information that previous disturbances, incidents, disruptions and other criminal activities had taken place at or near the property of the theater" prior to the deadly July 20 midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises, during which the assault took place. Moreover, the suits continue, "These incidents most commonly took place during the evening hours" and included "at least one shooting, involving gang members," as well as assaults and robberies.

Because of such problems, the suits note that the Century 16 had regularly hired various security personnel to work at the theater, including off-duty Aurora police officers -- but they were typically on duty only Friday and Saturday nights. An exception: On July 19, the suit says officers were on hand for the transfer of box-office cash -- but not for the midnight screenings, when huge throngs descended on the theater to attend one of the year's most anticipated movie launches.

Moreover, the suits continue, the exterior doors to the theater lacked "any alarm system, interlocking security systems, or any other security or alarm features which would have put Defendant's employees or security personnel on notice that someone had surreptitiously left the theater by the exterior door and had put the door in an open position which would facilitate a surreptitious and unlawful re-entry" -- precisely what Holmes is thought to have done. And neither did the theater have procedures in place to prevent anyone from taking this action, the complaint maintains.

What follows in both suits is a speculative account of how Holmes purchased a ticket, entered the theater, propped open the door, gathered his deadly arsenal from his nearby car and readied for the attack. But they diverge when it comes to what happened to the plaintiffs.

Continue to read accounts about victims suing the Aurora Century 16 and to see the complaints. Traynom and Axelrod are said to have been seated in auditorium nine of the Century 16 in the upper level area. As the attack began, with Holmes allegedly throwing tear-gas canisters into the theater and then opening fire, they ducked down behind seats as others tried to escape -- but they didn't evade injury. Traynom was "shot in the gluteus maximus," while Axelrod "suffered significant orthopedic injuries to his right knee and ankle" in addition to the "emotional and psychological distress and trauma" both of them endured.

No wonder, because, the suit continues, "Plaintiffs lay helpless on the ground for many minutes, while the gunman continued shooting people" until "his weapon jammed."

And Nowlan? He, too, was seated in the upper level of auditorium nine, and he also ducked behind seats as others around him fled. But he wound up being shot in his arm so seriously that the limb was almost severed, the lawsuit says. In addition, he was shot in his left leg, forcing himi to remain laying on the theater floor with gunfire ringing out. Meanwhile, "the movie continued to play, and the houselights remained very low or off." No alarm was activated and "there was no action taken by theater employees to safely evacuate the many people left in Auditorium 9," the suit states.

In the end, Nowlan was assisted by members of the Aurora Police Department, who removed him from the theater. The suit adds: "Because there were no ambulances available, those police officers put Mr. Nowlan in an Aurora patrol car and drove him to the hospital themselves." Since then, the complaint goes on, he "has undergone significant medical treatment for his many injuries, including several surgeries, skin-grafting procedures, muscle replacement and the like. He will continue to require significant medical assistance for his injuries and has been unable to return to work through the date of filing of this complaint."

The claims for relief in the lawsuits center on premises liability and negligence. The defendant is asked to pay a judgment that "will fully and fairly compensate" for "damages, losses and injuries, both past and future."

Here are the two lawsuits.

Denise Traynom and Brandon Axelrod v. Cinemark USA

Joshua Nowlan v. Cinemark USA

More from our Aurora Theater Shooting archive: "Aurora theater shooting: Torrence Brown Jr. first to sue over attack."

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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