Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

A Calm Suspect amid Chaos at Colorado Theater ; Police Testimony Offers a Chance to Understand How Shooting Unfolded

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

A Calm Suspect amid Chaos at Colorado Theater ; Police Testimony Offers a Chance to Understand How Shooting Unfolded

Article excerpt

The man accused of being the gunman, James E. Holmes, was described as being eerily calm and detached from the chaos at the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.


The movie theater was a blood-soaked nightmare that night in July. Wounded moviegoers screamed for help and tried to crawl for the exits. Bodies lay in the aisles. The floor was a carpet of shell casings, the air stung with the smell of tear gas, and dozens of abandoned cellphones bleated incessantly.

But outside, James E. Holmes stood with eerie calm, his head hidden behind a gas mask and helmet, his hands resting on the roof of his car. He was, police officers recalled in court on Monday, detached from the chaos he had created moments before. He was sweating heavily underneath a sheath of black body armor. He smelled foul.

"He was very, very relaxed," said Officer Jason Oviatt of the Aurora Police Department, who apprehended Mr. Holmes behind the theater minutes after the shooting. "It was like there weren't normal emotional responses. He seemed very detached from it all."

Officer Oviatt was one of six police officers to testify on the first day of a preliminary hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence to try Mr. Holmes, 25, on accusations of killing 12 people and wounding dozens more inside the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, a Denver suburb.

An Arapahoe County district judge, William B. Sylvester, will make that decision.

Mr. Holmes faces more than 160 counts of murder and attempted murder.

For victims and their families, the hearing may offer the best, and perhaps only, opportunity to understand how the July 20 shooting unfolded, and to get a glimpse of Mr. Holmes's actions and mind-set in the weeks and minutes before the attack. A criminal trial -- if one ever convenes -- remains months away, probably at the end of a long series of legal arguments, including over Mr. Holmes's mental fitness to stand trial.

On Monday, some of the first police officers at the scene drew a grim and detailed picture of the moments before, during and after the mass shooting, the deadliest in Colorado since the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School.

They described searching vainly for a pulse on a 6-year-old girl, the shooting's youngest victim. They described a theater floor littered with popcorn and casings, flip-flops and blood. They recalled carrying wounded victims to their squad cars and racing them to local hospitals, yelling to one man, "Don't you die on me!"

And for the first time in public, police officers gave a moment- by-moment account of arresting Mr. Holmes.

Officer Oviatt said he stumbled upon Mr. Holmes behind the theater, at first believing that the tall, thin man in the gas mask and commando gear was a police officer. He quickly realized he was mistaken, and said he aimed his gun at Mr. Holmes and ordered him to the ground.

As sirens wailed and bloodied, terrified moviegoers streamed out of a midnight screening of "The Dark Knight Rises," Officer Oviatt said that Mr. Holmes made no attempt to run, to confront the police or to resist them. He raised his hands when ordered to by another officer, lay prone on the ground and glanced around at the lights and sounds piercing the night.

"He just did what he was told," Officer Oviatt said. "No resistance."

Fearing there could be other gunmen lurking, Officer Oviatt said he dragged Mr. Holmes into an alcove for trash bins and patted him down, searching for other weapons. The police would find an assault rifle just outside the emergency exit door of Theater 9, and a shotgun inside. …

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