'I'm The Joker', gunman tells police after killing 12
LIKE everyone else inside screen 9 of the Century 16 cinema, Jessica Ghawi could hardly contain her excitement as she waited for a midnight premiere of the latest Batman epic 'The Dark Knight Rises'.
After waiting for months to see what was tipped to become the most successful film of all time, the 24-year-old sports journalist passed the time by teasing a friend via her Twitter account, saying: "You aren't seeing it tonight?!? ... ?Loser!"
She was so desperate for the film to begin that she even tweeted her frustration, writing in capitals: "Movie doesn't start for 20 minutes." In a staff car park at the back of the cinema, James Eagan Holmes, a medical school drop-out (24) was also counting down the minutes to an evening for which he, too, had spent weeks getting ready.
While many children inside the cinema had come dressed as Batman, Holmes had painted his hair red and, when arrested, told police he was the comic book hero's nemesis, The Joker.
He had armed himself with four guns and tear gas canisters as he prepared to storm the multiplex in the Denver suburb of Aurora, Colorado, determined to kill as many people as he could.
Half an hour after the film began, Miss Ghawi and 11 others were dead or dying after Holmes carried out America's latest mass shooting, silently and indiscriminately targeting men, women, children and even a four-month-old baby.
"Every few seconds it was just boom, boom, boom," said Jennifer Seeger, who was in the theatre. "He would reload and shoot and anyone who would try to leave would just get killed."
Through tears, Patricia Legarreta (25) described how she was hit in the leg as she escaped with her daughter Azariah, four, and four-month-old Ethan.
She said: "He (the killer) was heading towards my daughter. Had I not moved I don't know what would have happened to her. It was horrible, so scary."
Her partner Jamie Rohrs (25) jumped 20ft from a balcony with Ethan in his arms. He said: "I thought he was going to shoot the baby so I just jumped over the side. There were gunshots flashing to my right and people were falling, it was like a dream."
Holmes shot 71 people, including at least one person in an adjacent cinema who was hit as the bullets penetrated the walls.
The 250-seater cinema was packed with families and high school students.
Ray Kelly, the commissioner of New York police, who was kept updated by his colleagues in Colorado, said: "It clearly looks like a deranged individual. He had his hair painted red, he said he was The Joker, obviously the enemy of Batman."
Police are trying to ascertain whether Holmes was acting out one of the anarchic, bloody attacks carried out by The Joker in Batman films and comics. In one 'Dark Knight' comic, The Joker kills an entire late-night television audience with gas.
In the same comic, a deranged loner carries out a mass shooting in an adult movie cinema and the Batman video game, Arkham City, is set in an abandoned cinema.
Some witnesses also said the gunman burst into the cinema during a scene in which members of the public are killed during an attack on Gotham City's stock exchange.
Holmes, who is originally from San Diego, California, told police he had left explosives at his flat five miles away. Bomb disposal experts, who went in through a window, found a booby trap consisting of a "very sophisticated" system of fluid-filled bottles and tripwires rigged to explode if the front door was opened.
Holmes's parents, Arlene and Robert, released a statement saying: "Our hearts go out to those who were involved in this tragedy", but offering no clues as to why their son had carried out the attack.
John Hickenlooper, the Colorado governor, said the shootings were "the act of an apparently very deranged mind".
Although Holmes believed himself to be The Joker, some witnesses at first believed he had come dressed as Bane, the villain of 'The Dark Knight Rises', played by Tom Hardy. Holmes was wearing black body armour and a gas mask like Bane.
After seeing the gunman burst into the cinema via an emergency exit, many cinema-goers thought he was a prankster acting out a scene from the film. The fact that many Batman fans had come in fancy dress only added to the confusion.
Paul Otermat, who was in the auditorium, said: "Front right there was an emergency exit and a man walked through there. I thought it was a publicity stunt for a second."
"He threw tear gas over the crowd and as soon as he threw it I could feel it in my eye," Ms Seeger added.
Sitting in the second row, Ms Seeger was among the first to be picked out by Holmes, who aimed his gun at her face.
"I was just a deer in headlights. I didn't know what to do," she said. She ducked as Holmes shot people sitting behind her. "There were bullet (casings) just falling on my head," she said.
She said she began crawling towards an exit when she saw a girl aged about 14 "lying lifeless on the stairs".
The 6ft 3ins gunman, armed with a Remington pump action shotgun, an AR15 assault rifle and two Glock handguns, made his way up the aisle, shooting as he went, saying nothing.
Ms Ghawi, who was with her friend, Brent Lowak, was among those who ducked down behind the seats to take cover. Weeks earlier she had escaped another mass shooting, in which a man was killed and seven injured in a shopping mall in Toronto on June 2.
Describing what happened to her, her brother Jordan wrote on his blog that her friend had tried to dial 911, but "Brent then heard Jessica scream and noticed that she was struck by a round in the leg".
As he tried to put pressure on the wound and keep her calm, he, too, was shot, in the leg, and then "noticed that Jessica was no longer screaming". She had been shot in the head.
Nearby, Chandler Brannon (25) escaped by playing dead. He said: "Me and my girlfriend ducked down behind the chairs with a lot of other people . . . we stayed down behind the chairs because we were afraid to get up and we played dead.
"We could hear screaming and chairs being broken around us so we just figured we would stay down."
Among the injured was a four-month-old baby, who was well enough to be allowed home from hospital yesterday, and children aged as young as six.
"I saw one girl covered in blood," said Alex Milano. "I don't know whose little girl that was, but my heart goes out to them."
Tanner Coon, who was in the cinema with a friend and the friend's 12-year-old brother, said the gunman fired off a volley of rounds, then there was a pause and a "period of quietness when everybody started running out".
He said: "I slipped on some blood and landed on a lady. I shook her and said we need to go. There was no response so I presume she was dead."
Other witnesses reported seeing Holmes begin the shooting spree with his shotgun, and once it was empty he calmly dropped it to the floor, grabbed a rifle strapped to his back and went on firing, then later used the pistols.
He began building up his arsenal in May, buying his guns legally from two shops. Footage taken in the cinema lobby showed survivors screaming and crying as they fled.
Holmes offered no resistance as he was arrested next to his Hyundai in the car park.
The Aurora police chief, Dan Oates, said Holmes talked about "possible explosives in his residence".
"His apartment is booby-trapped with various incendiary and chemical devices and tripwires," he said, adding that it may take days to defuse the devices.
The massacre was the worst mass shooting in the US since the 2007 Virginia Tech campus killing, in which 32 people died. Just 13 miles from the cinema is Columbine High School, where two students killed 12 classmates and a teacher in 1999.
Holmes began his neuroscience course in June last year, but dropped out last month, without giving a reason.
President Barack Obama said he was saddened by the "horrific and tragic" shooting and he cut short electoral campaigning to return to the White House, where he faced inevitable calls for a tightening of gun laws. (© Daily Telegraph, London)