A gas mask-wearing gunman opened fire early Friday at a suburban Denver movie theater, leaving at least 12 people dead and 50 others injured, police said.
Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates told reporters that 10 people died at the scene and four others died after being taken to local hospitals. However, a police officer later told MSNBC TV that the death toll had been revised to 12. A three-month-old and a six-year-old girl were among those treated, according to reports.
Police said the gunman had appeared at the front of the theater during the movie and released a canister which let out a hissing sound, which is believed to be tear gas. Witnesses told reporters that gunfire erupted during a shootout scene in the film.
“It was mass chaos,” witness Jennifer Seeger told TODAY. ”He was five feet away from me.”
The gunman shot the ceiling and then “he threw in the gas can, and then I knew it was real,” Seeger added.
“Everyone’s going for the door and then everyone starts saying, ‘no, he’s going to shoot people going for the door, and he did,” she recalled. “They’re trying to escape, and he shot those people as well.”
A suspect was apprehended in the shopping center’s parking lot, Oates said. He was named as 24-year-old James Holmes, two federal officials from different agencies told NBC News.
The incident occurred in the Century 16 Movie Theaters at the Aurora Town Center, police told NBC News. Aurora is a suburb less than 10 miles east of downtown Denver.
NBC station KUSA-Denver cited a witness as seeing a black-clad 6-foot-tall man wearing a riot helmet, goggles and bullet-proof vest.
However, many people attended the film dressed in Batman-related costumes.
Witnesses said the gunman entered the theater through an emergency exit door.
The suspect was found in possession of a gas mask, Oates said. Ammunition was found in the suspect’s car, police said.
President Obama said he is “shocked and saddened” by the mass shooting overnight at a Colorado movie theater that left at least 12 dead and up to 50 wounded.
The president, in a statement released early Thursday morning, urged the nation to “come together as one American family” and keep the people of Aurora, the site of the shooting, in their prayers.
“Michelle and I are shocked and saddened by the horrific and tragic shooting in Colorado,” Obama said. “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.”
An amateur video posted to Youtube (see below) showed people walking around outside the theater, allegedly in the moments after the incident. One man was seen wearing a shirt that appeared to be bloodstained. He was being led by a police officer. Some people could be heard shouting.