“We Sure As Hell Are Angry”: Bomb Squad Defuses Holmes’ Apartment

Police chief reports that the deadly explosives in James Holmes' apartment in Aurora have been safely detonated; he'd feared for his officers' lives

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DON EMMERT / AFP - Getty Images

Debris flies out a window after law enforcement officers detonated an explosive device inside the apartment of shooting suspect James Holmes in Aurora, Colo., on Saturday, July 21.

The overwhelming breath-holding of the day was concentrated around the so-called “booby-trapped” apartment belonging to the alleged shooter, James Holmes. After a joint bomb squad of technicians both local and federal were apparently successful in defusing a number of devices inside the apartment, Aurora police chief Dan Oates showed a rare moment of raw emotion.

“Make no mistake about it. We sure as hell are angry,” Oates said at the Saturday afternoon press conference. “What has happened to our city, what he’s done to the wonderful people who live here, and also with what he threatened to do to our police officers.” After his apprehension early Friday, Holmes admitted to police that his apartment, on the top floor of a sleepy 3-story apartment building in northwest Aurora, was rigged.

Upon treading carefully outside the apartment yesterday morning, authorities said they saw up to 60 “improvised explosive and/or incendiary devices,” said Special Agent in Charge Jim Yacone of the FBI‘s Denver division. There were also wires, fuses and a possible accelerant that would have the potential to spread or amplify any explosion. They worked to set up a controlled detonation effort using robotic technology with the capability to snip wires. By Saturday morning, a number of local streets were blocked off as a precaution, and residents of the 12-unit building and four adjacent complexes were all evacuated. Aurora initiated a reverse 911 call to let folks know there might be some sort of detonation. Before activating the first controlled explosion around 10:40 a.m., authorities sounded an alarm and yelled “Fire in the hole” three times, followed by a small yet significant boom which was thought to have detonated the dangerous devices. Another small explosion followed around noon local time.

(MORE: Who Is Suspect James Holmes?)

Yacone was careful to note that “the threat has not been completely eliminated, but it has been significantly reduced.” He wouldn’t go into the composition of the incendiary devices so as not to jeopardize the prosecution but confirmed that the next person to open the door “would have sustained significant injuries and/or lost their life.” Oates explained how the fear hit his team. “Who was most likely to enter that location after he planned and executed this horrific crime? It was going to be a police officer.” But the robot was able to remove the initial trip wire across the front door, as well as to “neutralize a hydrobolic mixture, a form of an oxidizer and some fuel that was inside.”

The many potentially explosive devices that filled Holmes’ apartment, along with the 6,000 rounds of ammo he’s thought to have possessed, Oates said, were no accident. He shed light on the premeditation of Holmes’ operation, saying that he “had received a high volume of commercial deliveries to both his work and home addresses” over the past months.

MSNBC spoke to a former resident of apartment #10, the unit that Holmes lived in. The prior tenant, who lived there two years ago, paid $525 a month for the one-bedroom, 800 square foot apartment. The apartment was adjacent to the School of Medicine at the University of Colorado Denver, where Holmes was studying for his PhD in neuroscience until he withdrew last month. There was a concern that Holmes may have been able to obtain hazardous materials from the medical school, but Oates said that over the past 24 hours, the school completed a “thorough search of biohazards and radioactive materials and found there is nothing missing.”

(PHOTOS: Scenes from Aurora: Aftermath of the Theater Massacre)

The youngest victim announced Saturday was 6-year-old Veronica Moser, who had attended the midnight showing with her mother Ashley. A relative interviewed by MSNBC said that Ashley Moser is still in critical condition after being shot herself and doesn’t yet have an idea about the tragedy that befell her daughter.

Trauma surgeon Dr. Bob Snyder from the Medical Center of Aurora said that his team was treating seven victims from the shooting. Their youngest patient was 16; the oldest, 31. “We had everything from head injuries, chest injuries to belly injuries to injuries to the arms and legs. It pretty much runs the gamut of multiple gunshots,” he said at a Saturday morning press conference. “Some of the injuries people are dealing with will be permanent.”

The Los Angeles Times reported Saturday that in 2008, Holmes worked as a camp counselor in Los Angeles for disadvantaged kids, a program run by Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters. In the program, Holmes was responsible for 10 kids. And through his tenure, he reportedly received no incident reports, and there was no record of any problems. While it seems incongruous that the alleged shooter would have worked so closely with kids, this incident-free description is not inconsistent with what little we’ve learned about him. Holmes remains a virtual ghost online. No Facebook, Twitter or MySpace account has yet been found for him — though it has been discovered that he had a profile on sex site AdultFriendFinder. Holmes, the alleged shooter, will be arraigned Monday.

MORE: Complete Coverage of the Aurora, Colorado Shooting