In Aurora, a Day of Memorials and a Presidential Visit

New York Times – July 22, 201
By JOHN ELIGON and MICHAEL SCHWIRTZ

AURORA, Colo. — A collage of teddy bears, flowers, posters, candles and notes continued to grow on Sunday on a street corner across from a movie theater here in this Denver suburb, serving as a memorial to the 12 people who were killed there on Friday at a late-night showing of the Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises.”

On a day set to be marked by mourning and memorials, President Obama arrived in Aurora to meet with the families of victims and survivors of the shooting, which the police say was planned over several months and carried out early Friday by a single gunman, identified as James Eagan Holmes.

Mr. Holmes, an academically gifted 24-year-old who recently dropped out of a prestigious neuroscience doctoral program, was said to be held in solitary confinement as investigators seek answers about his motives. Police officers have disarmed and removed the explosives that Mr. Holmes had rigged in his apartment, allowing dozens of residents evacuated from the vicinity to return to their homes. The city plans to hold a vigil on Sunday evening across from the movie theater at the Aurora shopping mall where the shootings took place. Residents of Aurora are only now beginning what many say will be a long and difficult period of grieving.

“We need some time to grieve then we’ll move ahead,” Mayor Steve Hogan told the ABC affiliate in Denver. “Things will change in Aurora, but we do have an opportunity to be a better city. We’ll be a great community again.”

Starting from early in the morning people gathered at the makeshift memorial across from the theater. Standing next to the memorial, Jeannie Donelson removed her white-framed sunglasses and dried her eyes with a scrunched tissue. This tragedy was close to home. One of the boys who died was a friend of her niece and nephew. A 6-year-old victim was related to a friend of her niece’s.

“I guess just to be able to say goodbye,” Ms. Donelson, 49, said of why she visited the memorial. “Bring some closure.”

On top of a hill overlooking the site, Greg Zanis, who builds electric cars for a living, had erected 12 white crosses in honor of each of the dead, just as he did more than a decade ago in nearby Littleton, Colo., to mark the Columbine High School shooting. There, 15 crosses had originally stood — 13 for those who were killed and two for the shooters who killed themselves.

Even as residents began planning candlelight vigils and making funeral arrangements, local and national leaders were fielding the questions that follow such tragedies, particularly those that have to do with guns and the laws that regulate them.

Over the last two months, the authorities said, Mr. Holmes was able to purchase two handguns, a shotgun and an assault rifle and about 6,000 rounds of ammunition. He also bought a gas mask and body armor that covered him as he carried out his attack.

“This immediately leads to the issue of gun control,” Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said Sunday when asked about the shootings on CNN. “To think that somehow increased gun control is the answer, that would have to be proved.”

Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado offered a similar response on CNN about whether he would support heavier restrictions on gun purchases.

“This is a case of evil, of someone who was an aberration of nature,” Mr. Hickenlooper said. “If it wasn’t one weapon, it would have been another.”

Others, including Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, have forcefully called for a renewed national discussion on gun control. On Sunday, Mr. Bloomberg reiterated a call to President Obama and Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, to make gun control an issue in the presidential campaign.

“Somebody’s got to do something about this, and it requires, particularly in a presidential year, the candidates for president of the United States to stand up once and for all say, ‘Yes they felt terrible, yes it’s a tragedy, yes we have great sympathies for the families, but it’s time for this country to do something,’ “ Mr. Bloomberg said on CBS. “It’s time for both of them to be called, held accountable.”

In Aurora late Saturday, emergency officials cleared Mr. Holmes’s apartment of explosives and dangerous chemicals that police said were part of a trap meant to kill or injure anyone who entered. Local news media reported that the investigators had taken away a computer and a hard drive and would continue to search for evidence on Sunday. The squat brick apartment complex where Mr. Holmes lived was cordoned off with yellow police tape and remained off-limits to residents on Sunday, though authorities deemed it safe for residents in neighboring buildings to return to their homes.

Dimitri Shchekochikhin, 27, an international fellow and researcher from Moscow who is studying heart and kidney disease at the same university Mr. Holmes had attended, lives on the first floor of Mr. Holmes’s building and stopped by this morning to see if he could retrieve some of his things.

Unshaven and seeming agitated, Mr. Shchekochikhin, who has been staying with friends, said he took only his passport, wallet and plane tickets with him after the police instructed him to evacuate in the early hours of Friday.

“I had finished a big project and then drank a bottle of dry, red wine and fell asleep,” he said. Several hours later, the police banged on his door.

This morning, several officers brought Mr. Shchekochikhin some of his belongings from his apartment: two cellphones, a computer, a thumb drive, a pair of shoes and a bag of clothes. He seemed grateful, noting that he was attending a conference in Aspen in the coming days and then heading back to Moscow until early August.

Mr. Shchekochikhin said that he had seen Mr. Holmes in the building four times since last November and that he was alone on each occasion. The two did not exchange any pleasantries.

“We were both rushing and busy,” he said, adding, “He seemed like a normal American graduate student.”

The police were trying to piece together what led a reserved student to plan what police have described as a calculated attack on a movie theater.

“We’re building a case to show that this was a deliberative process by a very intelligent man who wanted to do this,” Daniel Oates, the Aurora police chief, said on the CBS program “Face the Nation.” “It will take quite a bit of time. There are so many loose ends.”

Mr. Oates described the explosive traps complete with trip wires in Mr. Holmes’s apartment as sophisticated with backup triggering mechanisms that prevented officers from easily disarming them. At the theater, he said police officers quickly realized the man in body armor, noting without giving details that there was “one particular piece of equipment” that distinguished him from SWAT team members responding to the attack. Other officials and witnesses reported that Mr. Holmes’s AR-15 assault rifle most likely jammed during the assault, forcing him to use one of his less powerful weapons and perhaps saving lives.

Shooting suspect gun club membership rejected

San Jose Mercury  July 22, 2012
By NICHOLAS RICCARDI and GILLIAN FLACCUS

AURORA, Colo.—The suspect in the Colorado shooting rampage displayed behavior that a gun range owner thought was “bizarre,” but it is still unclear if anyone at the university where he studied had any hint of his plans.

Police said James Holmes began buying guns at Denver-area stores nearly two months before Friday’s shooting. He also received at least 50 packages in four months at his home and the University of Colorado that authorities are investigating to see whether they contained materials for the potentially deadly booby traps that police found in his apartment.

At the same time, the quiet 24-year-old was in the final weeks of the first year of a rigorous Ph.D. neuroscience program, where he took a three-part final exam required for students to progress in the program and was scheduled to give a presentation on MicroRNA Biomarkers before abruptly leaving in June.

Holmes is being held without bond on suspicion of multiple counts of first-degree murder after a shooting rampage minutes into a premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora early Friday that left 12 people dead and 58 injured.

He is scheduled for an initial hearing Monday and has been assigned a public defender.

Amid the continuing investigation of Holmes and his background, Sunday was a day for healing and remembrance in Aurora, with President Barack Obama arriving to visit with families of the victims and a vigil planned later in the evening.

Congregations across Colorado prayed for the shooting victims and their relatives. Churches sent out social-media appeals for neighbors who wanted to join in remembrance. Elderly churchgoers at an aging Presbyterian church within walking distance near Holmes’ apartment joined in prayer, though none had ever met him.

Holmes was being held in solitary confinement at a Denver-area county detention facility and was not cooperating to authorities, Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates said.

“He lawyered up. He’s not talking to us,” the chief said.

Authorities are working with FBI behavioral analysts and are looking into Holmes’ relationships to figure out a motive, which could take months, Oates said.

The gunman’s semiautomatic assault rifle jammed during the attack at the Aurora movie theater, forcing him to switch to another gun with less firepower, a federal law enforcement official told The Associated Press. That malfunction and weapons switch during the shooting rampage might have saved some lives.

Oates said a 100-round ammunition drum was found in the theater but said he did not know whether it jammed or emptied.

The owner of a gun range told the AP that Holmes applied to join the club last month but never became a member because of his behavior and a “bizarre” message on his voice mail.

He emailed an application to join the Lead Valley Range in Byers on June 25 in which he said he was not a user of illegal drugs or a convicted felon, said owner Glenn Rotkovich. When Rotkovich called to invite him to a mandatory orientation the following week, he said he heard a message on Holmes’ voice mail that was “bizarre—guttural, freakish at best.”

He left two other messages but eventually told his staff to watch out for Holmes at the July 1 orientation and not to accept him into the club, Rotkovich said.

Three days after the massacre, it still remained unclear whether Holmes’ professors and other students at his 35-student Ph.D. program noticed anything unusual about his behavior. His reasons for quitting the program in June, just a year into the five- to seven-year program, also remained a mystery.

The university declined to release any details of his academic record, citing privacy concerns, and at least two dozen professors and other staff declined to speak with the AP. Some said they were instructed not to talk publicly about Holmes in a blanket email sent to university employees.

Jacque Montgomery, a spokeswoman for the University of Colorado medical school, said that police have told the school to not talk about Holmes.

The university also took down the website for its graduate neuroscience program on Saturday.

Dan Keeney, president of DPK Public Relations in Dallas, said asking for silence from university employees because of a police investigation was appropriate, but taking down the website was “indefensible” for a publicly funded university unless the school believed it contained inaccurate information relating to the suspect.

“It’s an indefensible action,” he said. “It’s disappointing to hear that they would take that action because it suggests that it’s not in the public’s interest to have access to that information and I think it is in the public’s interest.”

The school took down the neuroscience department’s site at the request of faculty and staff who had privacy concerns, Montgomery said

The University of Colorado also disclosed it was cooperating with police who were looking into whether Holmes used his position as a graduate student to order materials in the potentially deadly booby traps that police said they found in his apartment.

The apartment was booby trapped with jars of liquids, explosives and chemicals that could have killed “whoever entered it,” Oates said, noting it would have likely been one of his officers. Investigators spent hours removing the explosive materials Saturday.

Among the dead was a 6-year-old girl and a man who died on his 27th birthday and a day before his wedding anniversary. Families grieved and waited at hospitals, with police reporting 11 people still in critical condition as of Saturday.

While authorities continued to refuse to discuss a possible motive for one of the deadliest mass shootings in recent U.S. history, details about Holmes’ background as a student and would-be scientist trickled out.

He had recently withdrawn from the competitive graduate program in neuroscience at the University of Colorado Denver, where he was one of six pre-thesis Ph.D. students at its Neuroscience Program to be funded by a prestigious grant from the National Institutes of Health. The program of 35 students is dedicated to training outstanding neuroscientists and academicians who will make significant contributions to neurobiology, the university said in a statement.

In the first year of the five- to seven-year program, students take classes and complete three, three-month research rotations in the labs of different professors.

Professors who worked with him either did not return calls or declined to comment, saying police and university officials had told them not to speak to the media.

At one point in the year, Holmes was engaged in research about RNA and was to present a paper May 8 about RNA Biomarkers, according to a class schedule. It was unclear if he presented the paper.

Holmes recently took an intense, three-part oral exam that marks the end of the first year. Those who do well continue with their studies and shift to full-time research, while those who don’t do well meet with advisers and discuss their options, including retaking the exam.

University officials would not say if he passed, citing privacy concerns.

The university said Holmes gave no reason for his withdrawal, a decision he made in June.

Holmes was not allowed access from the institution after his withdrawal, which was “standard operating procedure” because he was no longer affiliated with the school, Montgomery said. Holmes had no contact with university police, she said.

A resume posted on Monster.com paints a picture of a brilliant young man brimming with potential: He worked as a summer intern at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla in 2006 and mapped the neurons of Zebra finches and studied the flight muscles of hummingbirds while an undergraduate at the University of California, Riverside.

Ritchie Duong, a friend who has known Holmes for more than a decade, told the Los Angeles Times that in high school he liked to play cards and video games. They both attended undergraduate school at the University of California, Riverside, where they saw each other once a week to watch the TV show “Lost.”

Duong last saw Holmes in December when they met for dinner in Los Angeles and saw a movie together. His friend seemed fine, he told the newspaper.

Academics came easily to Holmes both at high school and at the UC Riverside, Duong said.

“I had one college class with him, and he didn’t even have to take notes or anything. He would just show up to class, sit there, and around test time he would always get an ‘A,'” said Duong, 24.

During the attack early Friday, Holmes set off gas canisters and used the military-style semiautomatic rifle, a shotgun and a pistol to open fire on the unsuspecting theater-goers, Oates said. Holmes had bought the weapons at local gun stores in the past two months. He recently purchased 6,000 rounds of ammunition over the Internet, the chief said.

The gun that jammed had a high-capacity ammunition magazine, according to the federal law enforcement official who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the investigation. Police have said that a 100-round drum magazine was recovered at the scene and that such a device would be able to fire 50 to 60 rounds a minute.

The federal official spoke on condition of anonymity to in order to discuss the investigation, said the disabled weapon.

The Batman movie, the last in the trilogy starring Christian Bale, opened worldwide Friday with midnight showings in the U.S. “The Dark Knight Rises” earned $30.6 million in the midnight screenings, and, according to industry estimates, roughly $75 million on that day as a whole. That put it on track for a weekend total of around $160 million, which would be the second-highest opening weekend ever, following “The Avengers.”

The shooting was the worst in the U.S. since the Nov. 5, 2009, attack at Fort Hood, Texas. An Army psychiatrist was charged with killing 13 soldiers and civilians and wounding more than two dozen others.

Across the street from the movie theater, a man who placed 15 crosses near Columbine High School after a 1999 massacre there has returned to Colorado with 12 crosses for the victims of Friday’s shooting.

Greg Zanis, of Aurora, Ill., put up the 3 1/2-foot-tall crosses Sunday on a hill across the street from the Century 16 theater.

Aurora shooting revives gun control debate

Washington Times  July 22, 2012
By Paige Winfield Cunningham

As the country continued to mourn in the wake of last week’s Colorado shooting — and President Obama planning to visit victims’ families on Sunday — lawmakers reignited debates about whether stricter gun control laws would have prevented the movie theater massacre that left a dozen dead.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper dodged a question by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on ‘This Week’ about whether Colorado should revisit its gun laws, saying that shooting suspect James Holmes would have found a way to create ‘horror’ even if he hadn’t been able to acquire guns.

‘This wasn’t a Colorado problem. This is a human problem,’ said Mr. Hickenlooper, a Democrat. ‘Even if he didn’t have access to guns, this guy was diabolical, he would have found explosives, he would have found something else, some kind of poisonous gas. He would have done something to create this horror.’

But gun-control advocates pointed to the types of weapons reportedly used by Mr. Holmes, a 24-year-old doctoral student at the University of Colorado, entered an Aurora theater early on in a midnight showing of the ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ and opened fire, killing 12 people and wounding 58 others.

He was dressed in protective clothing that moviegoers assumed was a costume — a common thing to do at superhero movies on opening weekend — and was armed with a 100-round rifle magazine, along with other weapons.

‘Weapons of war don’t belong on the streets,’ Sen. Dianne Feinstein said on ‘Fox News Sunday, adding that the country needs to have a ‘sane’ debate about banning military-style assault weapons.

One of Washington’s strongest advocates for gun control, the California Democrat led the effort to ban assault weapons in 1993. She tried to extend the ban for another 10 years when it expired in 2004, but the act failed in Congress.

‘This is a powerful weapon, it had a 100-round drum,’ Mrs. Feinstein said. ‘This is a man who planned, who went in, and his purpose was to kill as many people as he could in a sold-out theater. We’ve got to really sit down and come to grips with what is sold to the average citizen in America.’

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, who became a leading gun control advocate after her husband was killed and son injured in the 1993 Long Island Rail Road shooting, said there’s one thing mass shooters have in common: a gun that can carry lots of ammunition.

‘Police responded in 90 seconds and yet he was able to take down 70 people,’ the New York Democrat said.

But like Mr. Hickenlooper, Sen. Ron Johnson, Wisconsin Republican, insisted the issue wasn’t about guns, but about an individual who would have found a way to carry out acts of violence no matter what tools were available to him.

‘This isn’t an issue about guns, this is an issue about sick, demented individuals,’ Mr. Johnson said. ‘I wish I could wave the magic wand and pass a law to prevent something like this in the future, but I don’t think there’s a solution in Washington.’

While the Colorado shooting has reinserted gun control back into the political debate, little is known about what motivated him, described by authorities as seemingly normal.

Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan told ‘This Week’ that Mr. Holmes hadn’t given any hint of the rampage he was about to embark upon.

‘He just by every standard appeared normal,’ Mr. Hogan said. ‘He did have friends. He had made connections. He had people he went drinking with on Friday nights.’

Calling his state ‘heartbroken,’ Mr. Hickenlooper called Mr. Holmes ‘clearly deranged, twisted, demonic in some way,’ saying his goal was to create terror.

The governor said his chief of staff took a group of young people to see ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ movie on Saturday night to make a statement against the shooter who killed a dozen people watching the same movie two days earlier.

‘The response to terrorism is not to shrink away but to rise up and face it,’ Mr. Hickenlooper told David Gregory on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press.’ ‘We’re not going to let this son of a gun win, we’re not.’

Alleged movie theater shooter worked at Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters camp 

JTA   July 22, 2012

(JTA) — James Holmes, the alleged shooter who killed 12 in a crowded Colorado movie theater, reportedly worked at a summer camp operated by Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles.

Holmes, 24, spent a summer working as a counselor for Camp Max Straus in Glendale, Calif., the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday. According to its website, the camp serves underprivileged children of all races and religious backgrounds.

He is suspected of opening fire on the crowd late Thursday night at a midnight screening in Aurora, Colo., of the new Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises.” Twelve people were killed and 58 were injured in the shooting spree.

Holmes was arrested shortly after the shootings. He reportedly set off smoke bombs before firing at the crowd.

In a statement to the Los Angeles Times, Randy Schwab, chief executive of Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles and director of Camp Max Straus, said of Holmes, “His role was to ensure that these children had a wonderful camp experience by helping them learn confidence, self-esteem and how to work in small teams to effect positive outcomes.” In a later e-mail, Schwab added, “That summer provided the kids a wonderful camp experience without incident.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a letter to President Obama on Saturday expressing his condolences and those of the Israeli people to the families of the Americans who were murdered in the theater.

“All Israelis stand alongside the American people in mourning over this terrible tragedy which claimed the lives of so many,” Netanyahu wrote. “We well understand the pain and loss that you are experiencing.”

 

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