A graduate student in a gas mask barged into a crowded Denver-area theater during a midnight showing of the new Batman movie Friday, hurled a gas canister and then opened fire, killing 12 people and injuring at least 50 others in one of the deadliest mass shootings in recent U.S. history.
When the smoke began to spread, some moviegoers thought it was a stunt that was part of the "The Dark Knight Rises," one of the most highly anticipated films of the summer. They saw a silhouette of a person in the haze near the screen, pointing a gun at the crowd and then shooting.
"There were bullet (casings) just falling on my head. They were burning my forehead," Jennifer Seeger said, adding that the gunman, dressed like a SWAT team member, fired steadily, stopping only to reload.
"Every few seconds it was just: Boom, boom, boom," she said. "He would reload and shoot and anyone who would try to leave would just get killed."
The suspect was taken into custody near a car behind the theater and was identified by federal law enforcement officials as 24-year-old James Holmes.
Holmes was studying neuroscience in a Ph.D. program at the University of Colorado-Denver, university spokeswoman Jacque Montgomery said. Holmes enrolled a year ago and was in the process of withdrawing at the time of the shootings, Montgomery said.
ABC News reported that Holmes told police "I am the Joker," according to NYPD police commissioner Ray Kelly. The report also says Holmes had died his hair like The Joker.
Authorities gave no motive for the attack. The FBI said there was no indication of ties to any terrorist groups.
Holmes had an assault rifle, a shotgun and two pistols, a federal law enforcement official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the investigation was still unfolding.