The full horror of the July 20, 2012 theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado began to emerge Monday at the preliminary hearing for suspect James Holmes.
Now bearded and sporting short brown hair, Holmes listened stoically as prosecutors presented their case against him. The hearing is expected to last a week.
Police witnesses painted a horrific picture of carnage in the movie theater, which was playing the latest “Batman” movie at the time of the slayings.
Aurora police officer Justin Grizzle described how he slipped in the blood pooled around the rear emergency exit of Theater 9 of Century 16, after police responded to calls of shots fired at 12:39 a.m.
Outside the theater door was a discarded AR-15, one of the weapons Holmes is accused of using to murder 12 people and injure 70.
Inside, wounded civilians screamed for help over the blaring of an alarm. The film, “The Dark Knight Rises,” continued to play on the big screen.
According to Grizzle, there were pools of blood underfoot, and the air was thick with stinging, choking tear gas. But Grizzle also said he remembered cellphones — scores of them, “ringing over and over,” when he first entered the theater.
The testimony was graphic at times, and witnesses — many with years of law enforcement or military backgrounds — struggled to compose themselves.
Grizzle described how he and another office sped two wounded victims to Aurora South hospital: a pregnant Ashley Moser, who had been shot in the chest and spine, and her husband, who had been shot in the head.
Grizzle said the man kept screaming for his young daughter, who was still at the theater, and demanding that Grizzle return to find her. At one point, according to Grizzle, the man tried to jump out of the moving car, and Grizzle had to hold him inside during the final miles to the emergency room.
Moser’s daughter, 6-year-old Veronica Moser-Sullivan, was the youngest of the fatalities in the theater.
Because the number of seriously wounded victims outnumbered available ambulances, other patrol cars were used to transport patients to hospitals. After four trips, Grizzle said the inside of his car was covered in blood, from the dashboard to the ceiling.
“There was so much blood, I could hear it sloshing in the back of my car,” he said.
Friends and relatives of those killed or injured in the attack — along with scores of media and members of the public — lined up in the pre-dawn chill for one of 150 seats in the main courtroom and an overflow courtroom equipped with video and audio feeds.
They heard the most detailed accounts to date of the carnage in the theater, and the aftermath of the violence.
Clad in head-to-toe body armor and wearing a police-style helmet and gas mask, police approaching the theater entrance initially mistook Holmes for a fellow officer.
But Holmes, who was standing alone with his hands on his car, wasn’t acting like a normal police officer, alerting officer Jason Oviatt that he may have been the shooter.
Holmes raised his hands immediately when ordered to do so and was “completely compliant,” Oviatt said.
Oviatt — who dragged Holmes behind a dumpster for a thorough search, because the scene was still unsecured — said Holmes’s body didn’t have “normal tension” when he grabbed him, and that he seemed unresponsive when questioned.
“He was very relaxed,” Oviatt said. “It was like there weren’t normal emotional responses to anything. … He seemed very detached from it all.”
A semiautomatic pistol with a green laser sight sat on the roof of Holmes’s car, where his hands had been. Oviatt found two knives beneath Holmes’s layers of body armor — which included a neck guard, vest, heavy jacket and “ballistic chaps” to protect his legs.
In fact, his protection was so thick, officers stripped him to his underwear to ensure they had completely disarmed him.
Holmes told officers that his house was rigged with “improvised explosive devices,” but said that they wouldn’t go off “unless we set them off,” said officer Aaron Blue.
Police found another handgun in Holmes’ car. Inside the theater was an 870 Remington shotgun, spent green shotgun shells, numerous spent shell casings and hundreds of live rounds. Sgt. Gerald Jonsgaard said police also found several high-capacity magazines, some of which were loaded, and a discarded drum magazine for the AR-15 that seemed to have jammed.
Matthew Ingui of the Aurora Police Department’s Major Crimes Unit spoke to many of those who survived the shooting after they had been taken to a nearby high school to talk to detectives.
They reported that the shooter fired from the front of the theater, near the emergency exit to the right of the screen. Although some reported multiple explosions from tear gas canisters, only one canister was recovered from the theater.
Witnesses heard rapid-fire bursts of shooting and the loud booms of shotgun blasts. As people fled, they left behind purses, ran out of their flip-flops and overturned popcorn tubs. One witness told Ingui that the shooter moved methodically up the stairs and along the aisles, firing as he went.
“He was very calm and moved with purpose,” Ingui said the witness told him.
Ingui said Holmes bought his ticket for the movie online nearly two weeks earlier, on July 8. On the night of the premier, he entered the theater just minutes after midnight and scanned his cell phone at a kiosk in the lobby for a ticket. He then stood near the concession counter for several minutes, but didn’t buy anything.
Witnesses say the shooting started about 20 minutes into the film.
Judge William Sylvester will determine at the conclusion of the hearing whether there is enough evidence against Holmes to proceed to trial.
Holmes’s attorney, Daniel King, hinted at offering an insanity defense. His client faces 166 counts, including several first-degree murder charges.
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