Aurora Shooting Suspect Looked Like A Fellow Officer, Police Say

Jan 7, 2013
Originally published on January 7, 2013 5:19 pm

Moments after a deadly attack that turned an Aurora, Colo., movie theater into a scene of panic and tragedy, the police officer who found suspect James Holmes at first took him for a fellow police officer, due to the body armor Holmes was wearing.

But he noticed that Holmes was "just standing there" and had no sense of urgency — despite the pandemonium at the theater, as people continued to stream out.

Holmes, who faces 12 charges of first-degree murder, was reportedly quiet and relaxed, "like there weren't normal emotional responses to anything," Oviatt said. "He seemed very detached from it all."

Holmes, 25, was in court Monday for the first of what is likely to be a week of hearings to determine whether prosecutors have enough evidence to try Holmes on 164 counts, with charges that range from murder and attempted murder to possessing explosives illegally.

The hearings are expected to give a sense both of the evidence against Holmes and of the strategies the defense and prosecution attorneys will employ. Oviatt and another officer who responded to the scene of the July 20 killings, Aaron Blue, testified Monday morning about what they found after responding to a call about a shooting during the just-released Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises.

Here's a brief rundown of other details that emerged today:

  • Officer Aaron Blue "recalled arriving on the scene to find 'a lot of people coming out of the theater screaming,'" Reuters reports.
  • Oviatt testified that he found Holmes at his car after tracing a trail of blood that led out of the movie theater, as The Denver Post reports.
  • Holmes "was wearing a helmet and gas mask and 'immediately put his hands up' when ordered to freeze and surrender," — Reuters, quoting Oviatt.
  • Holmes "was dripping with sweat and his pupils were very big," Oviatt said (via the Denver blog Westword).
  • "Blue testified that Holmes volunteered that he had four guns and that there were 'improvised explosive devices'" in his apartment, ABC reports. Oviatt testified that when Blue asked if the explosives would detonate, Holmes answered, "If you trip them."
  • In his testimony, Officer Justin Grizzle described how he drove six victims to the hospital, as he tried to keep them alive.
  • "After what I saw in that theater, I didn't want anyone else to die," said Grizzle, according to The Denver Post.
  • The paper adds that Grizzle "said that one man who was injured tried to jump out of the patrol car because he was so anxious to find his 7-year-old girl."

Last week, the Century Aurora 16 theater announced its plan to reopen, bringing calls of insensitivity from some of the family members of the victims. The theater had invited the families to attend the reopening.

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I'm Melissa Block.

And we begin this hour with testimony in court today about the mass shooting at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater last summer. Today, a series of police officers described the moments before and after the arrest of James Holmes, who's charged in the shootings. Holmes faces 166 counts of murder, attempted murder, and other offenses.

The July shooting left 12 dead and at least 58 injured. Victims and their families were in court today as prosecutors began laying out their case in the preliminary hearing. Colorado Public Radio's Megan Verlee was also in the courtroom and she joins me now. Megan, tell us more about what was presented at this hearing today.

MEGAN VERLEE, BYLINE: Well, today was really a parade of police officers who were on scene the night of the attack, laying out what happened. The officers who arrested Holmes described first seeing him outside the theater. Several of them mistook him for a police officer because he was wearing so much ballistic gear. They described that he was completely compliant when they did arrest him.

One officer actually described him as relaxed and disassociated from what was happening around him. So, for the first time, the public has gotten a sense of what the police officers saw that night. They also described truly horrific scenes within the theater itself, just massive amounts of blood and bodies and people running and screaming. It sounded like a tremendously chaotic and traumatizing evening. Several of the officers actually started crying on the stand as they described transporting victims.

BLOCK: And we mentioned, Megan, that some victims were in court for this testimony today. What was the scene inside the courtroom?

VERLEE: Well, it was quiet but emotional. Several people broke down and cried through the testimony. One woman hid her face in a scarf as officers described finding the body of Veronica Moser Sullivan. She was the youngest victim at six years old. There was also a lot of response when one officer described transporting her parents to the hospital. Apparently, Veronica's father tried to jump out of the moving police car to go back and find his daughter.

During testimony like that, you saw a lot of emotion on victims' faces. But for much of it, they just sat there very stoically, watching, taking a lot of notes, following very closely.

BLOCK: And apart from the police officers, who else is expected to testify at this hearing?

VERLEE: I believe it will mostly be law enforcement. That's pretty standard in this kind of hearing. The prosecution has to establish all the counts against Holmes, more than 150. And so we may at some point, I would guess, hear from somebody from one of the hospitals where people were admitted, just talking about how many wounded they treated. But mostly it will probably be officers from the scene that night and from the investigation afterward.

BLOCK: This pretrial hearing, Megan, is expected to last for about a week. And at the end, the judge issues a ruling, right, to say whether or not the case can go forward. What happens at that point?

VERLEE: Well, after that ruling and prosecutors almost always win pretrial hearings in Colorado, so it's a pretty foregone conclusion, it will be time to enter a plea. It will be the arraignment. It's widely expected that Holmes will plead not guilty by reason of insanity and that what we're hearing from the defense at this point is setting up that plea. But this trial has been delayed all the way down the line, so that could still be several months off.

BLOCK: OK. Meagan, thank you very much.

VERLEE: Thank you.

BLOCK: That's Megan Verlee of Colorado Public Radio reporting on the pretrial hearing of James Holmes. He's charged in the mass shooting at the Aurora, Colorado movie theater last July. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.