Colorado Investigators Focus on Booby-Trapped Apartment

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James Holmes attacked an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater early Friday, July 20, 2012 tossing tear gas before opening fire and killing 12 and wounding 38, authorities said. (Photo credit: University of Colorado)

By Chelsea J. Carter


(CNN) — Investigators on Saturday were working out how to safely enter the booby-trapped apartment of shooting suspect James E. Holmes, a 24-year-old Ph.D. candidate in neuroscience accused of opening fire early Friday in a packed Aurora, Colorado, movie theater.

“They definitely want to start trying to get in today,” said Frank Fania, an Aurora Police Department public information officer. “It could be quick; it could take a few hours. I’m not sure if it’s going to be a person. It might be a robot.”

Hundreds of residents remained evacuated Saturday from five buildings, including the modest, three-story brick building where Holmes told police he had rigged his top-floor, one-bedroom apartment with explosives.

“It is a very vexing problem how to enter that apartment safely. I personally have never seen anything like what the pictures show us is in there,” Police Chief Dan Oates told reporters.

“I see an awful lot of wire, trip wires, jars full of ammunition, jars full of liquid and … things that look like mortar rounds.”

The police department is bringing in federal experts to advise, Oates said.

Investigators have said little about what may have led the suspect to kill 12 people and wound 58 others during a premiere Friday of the Batman sequel “The Dark Knight Rises.”

The incident began unfolding late Thursday, when the Holmes bought a ticket to the midnight show and entered the Century Aurora 16 theater, a law enforcement source involved in the investigation told CNN.

The sold-out theater was filled with Batman fans, some in costume.

But Holmes soon exited a rear door leading from the theater to the parking lot, leaving it propped open. He gathered weapons before re-entering through the same door, said the source, who was not authorized to release the information.

He was back inside the theater a few minutes after the movie had begun and was dressed head-to-toe in black, authorities said.

Witnesses described him as wearing a gas mask that concealed much of his face and head.

Oates declined to release details about Holmes’ appearance other than to describe what he was wearing. The man was wearing a ballistic helmet and protective gear for his legs, throat and groin, black gloves and a gas mask, Oates said.

He said he would not release the booking photo “for investigative reasons.”

Police said Holmes set off two devices before spraying the theater with bullets from an AR-15 rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun and at least one of two .40-caliber handguns that police recovered.

Holmes had bought the guns legally at stores in the Denver area over the past two months, Oates said.

More than 6,000 rounds of ammunition were also purchased online, Oates said.

A receipt obtained by CNN shows Holmes bought some of the tactical gear, including a vest and magazine pouch, online on July 2.

Holmes surrendered without resistance within seven minutes of the first 911 calls from moviegoers, Oates said. He was arrested in the theater’s rear parking lot.

Holmes’ hair had been dyed red, and he told police he was “the Joker,” according to a federal law enforcement source with knowledge of the investigation. The source was not authorized to release details to the media.

The federal law enforcement source’s information about the suspect’s appearance fits with a statement made to reporters by New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who said he had been briefed by Colorado authorities.

In all, 10 people were killed inside the theater; their bodies were removed by Friday night and authorities started “the agonizing process” of notifying families, Oates said. Two of the gunshot victims died in hospitals.

Witness: ‘Longest minute of my life’

The Joker has long been a fixture in Batman comics and was famously portrayed by Heath Ledger in 2008’s “The Dark Knight,” the predecessor to “The Dark Knight Rises.” Ledger, who died in 2008, won a posthumous Academy Award for his portrayal of the villain who encourages anarchists to take over Gotham City.

As of late Friday, 30 victims remained hospitalized, 11 of them in critical condition, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said.

Holmes, who is being held in Arapahoe County Jail, is scheduled to appear in court on Monday morning. The court file was sealed, according to a court order.

A statement from Holmes’ family in San Diego asked for “privacy during this difficult time.”

“Our hearts go out to those who were involved in this tragedy and to the families and friends of those involved,” the statement said. “We are still trying to process this information.”

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Click here for additional coverage of the Colorado movie theater shooting.

CNN’s Carol Cratty, Ed Lavandera, Susan Candiotti, Joe Sutton, Mike Brooks, Sarah Aarthun and Jim Spellman contributed to this report.

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