Millions of theater goers packed movie houses all over the country on July 20 for the opening night screenings of The Dark Knight Rises. But in Aurora, Col., before the opening credits even rolled, deadly and uncinematic terror was visited on the audience when James Eagan Holmes, a 24-year-old University of Colorado dropout, allegedly walked into the Century 16 multiplex from an emergency exit. He reportedly threw a noxious gas bomb into the auditorium, then brandishing a Smith & Wesson M&P 15 rifle, a Remington 870 Express Tactical shotgun and two Glock 22 handguns, opened fire, killed 12 people and wounded 58.
Holmes gave himself up to police just minutes after the shooting. He was found wearing military-style attack gear including a gas mask, a tactical vest, bullet-proof leggings and a ballistic helmet. Fearful that he may have had other weaponry, authorities searched his nearby apartment and discovered it was booby-trapped to explode the moment people entered it.
The shooting sent shockwaves through a community that still remembered the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton just 15 miles away. But unlike Columbine and its shooters’ anarchist writings, there seemed to be no motive behind the carnage in Aurora. On July 30, prosecutors charged Holmes on 24 counts of first-degree murder and 116 counts of attempted murder.