The lone suspect in a movie-theater shooting that left 12 dead had a ticket to the midnight premiere of the newest Batman film and entered along with the crowd, investigators believe.
Then he walked out of the theater's emergency door unnoticed, investigators said, propping it open. The suspect, later identified as 24-year-old James Eagan Holmes, allegedly returned through the same door minutes later, clad in black ballistic gear, and opened fire.
In addition to the 12 people killed, 58 were wounded in the Century 16 complex at Aurora Town Center.
Information about the shooter's movements was first reported by multiple news agencies citing anonymous sources in Washington, D.C. A local source with knowledge of the investigation, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed the information.
Bloodied moviegoers, who had gathered at midnight to see "The Dark Knight Rises," dragged one another from the chaotic smoke-filled theater 9 of the Century 16 complex.
"It was like something out of a movie," said Jacob King, who was standing in the lobby when someone carried out the motionless body of a young girl, covered in blood. "You don't want to believe it's real, but it is."
The child was handed to a police officer, who put her into the back of his squad car and sped away.
Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates said many of the shooting victims were transported to hospitals by some of the nearly 200 officers who converged on the theater complex at about 12:40 a.m. after the shooter stormed the theater with three guns and discharged two canisters of gas that clouded the room and stung people's eyes and throats.
Police arrested Holmes minutes after they arrived at the movie theater. He surrendered behind the theater, near a white Hyundai.
Holmes remains in custody. His first court appearance is set for Monday.
The gunman shot the man sitting next to Chris Ramos, 20, in the chest. Ramosis haunted by the sight of the black-clad killer standing in the corner next to the movie screen, firing away, choosing the audience's fate with each bullet.
"No care for people's ages, or male or female, or anything," Ramos said. "He was heartless. I panicked. I thought at that moment, I was going to die."
When Ramos first saw the gunman come through the exit door, he saw objects flying in the air and thought they were fake bats, all in the spirit of the hour. Then, three rows in front of him, what Ramos described as tear-gas grenades exploded and sent out a hissing cloud.
The man next to Ramos had already been shot, and others were falling. He used his own arm to jam his head down toward the floor and grabbed for his 17-year-old sister at the same time.
"People were jumping over seats, jumping on you," Ramos said.
On the floor, they felt bodies, and as they crawled, they came across a man with a bleeding leg wound. Ramos and his sister dragged him as far as they could and were eventually met in the lobby by police officers who took over.
Jordan Crofter, 19, sneaked into theater 9 even though he had a ticket for the showing in the theater next door. He wanted to sit with his friends.
When the gunman tossed a smoke canister, Crofter didn't think about getting down or being still — he just ran. He said he was first to the lobby. Crofter said the gunman appeared lackadaisical, "as calm as can be," and didn't say a word.
"He was sitting there like target practice," Crofter said of the shooter. "He was trying to shoot as many people as he could."
A friend who had been sitting in the first row, Crofter learned later, had been shot and collapsed. He did not know Friday afternoon whether his friend had lived or died.
Three weapons were used in the shooting: a 12-gauge shotgun, an AR-15 assault-style weapon and a .40-caliber Glock handgun, according to Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates. A second Glock was found in Holmes' car, but police don't know if it was used in the attack.
The weapons were bought from two local stores of national chains, Gander Mountain Guns and Bass Pro Shop, beginning in May, law enforcement officials told NBC News.
Holmes was wearing "full ballistic gear," including a helmet, vest, throat protector, gas mask and black tactical gloves, Oates said.
Oates said investigators are not able to calculate how many shots were fired in the theater but that "lots of bullets fired very quickly."
Some shots fired in theater 9 penetrated the walls of adjacent auditoriums, hitting at least one person in theater 8 next door.
Police found Holmes' north Aurora apartment booby-trapped, the same song seemingly playing on repeat on his stereo. His building in the 1600 block of Paris Street and five buildings around it have been evacuated.
Ten people died at the scene, and two others died at hospitals, Oates said. Many others were critically injured.
One of the victims died at Children's Hospital in Aurora, but officials there would not say whether it was a child or an adult. The other five patients survived, including one who is in critical condition with buckshot injuries to the back.
Two of the victims at Children's were hit with a high-velocity rifle, perhaps from 60 to 80 feet away, emergency-room physician Dr. Guy Upshaw said.
A U.S. Navy sailor who was at the Century 16 theater at the time of the shooting is unaccounted for, the Department of Defense announced Friday afternoon. The sailor was "known to have been at the theatre that evening," the Defense Department said in a statement.
One other Navy sailor and two U.S. Air Force airmen were injured in the attack, according to the statement.
The Defense Department also reported that Holmes is not and never has been a member of the military.
Police received multiple calls about the shooting beginning at 12:39 a.m. and arrived within two minutes at the complex, 14300 E. Alameda Ave.
Police say the suspect "appeared" at the front of one of the theaters showing "The Dark Knight Rises." Witnesses told The Post he entered at the right front of theater 9 less than 10 minutes into the film.
The bodies of the 10 people who died at the theater remain at the scene while police continue to investigate.
Josh Kelly, 28, was watching the movie with his girlfriend of about four years. He lost her in the chaos.
Josh called his father, Robert Kelly, from the theater and said: "I can't find my girl." In the mayhem, the darkness and the smoke, and people panicking and trampling one another, he "just lost track and he couldn't see," the elder Kelly said. "My son is freaked out."
Robert Kelly rushed to the theater after his son's call and found him outside covered in blood. Josh Kelly's girlfriend was among the fatalities, Robert Kelly said. Josh is now at home and sedated, under a nurse's care.
Outside the back exit of the theater, FBI agents have placed yellow tape and numbered evidence markers on objects in the parking lot, including a gas mask. A bloody jacket and spilled popcorn were on the pavement.
Authorities also searched a white car parked behind the movie theater, removing what appeared to be a combat helmet, a duffel bag, an ammunition clip and a vest.
After his arrest, the suspect made a statement about possible explosives in his residence.
Police have blocked off a three-block area around an apartment complex in north Aurora. Residents in the area said they were evacuated around 2 a.m. while police searched the third floor of the apartment building.
The University of Colorado confirmed that Holmes was in the process of withdrawing from the university's graduate program in neurosciences. Holmes enrolled at the university in June 2011.
Jackie Mitchell said he had drinks with Holmes a few nights ago at the Zephyr Lounge. Mitchell said the two talked about football.
Holmes was "geeky" and had a "swagger" to him, Mitchell said.
"He just didn't seem the type to go into a movie theater and shoot it up," Mitchell said. "He seemed like a real smart dude."
Corbin Dates and Jennifer Seeger were sitting in the second row of the theater when Dates saw someone in the front row answer a phone call during the opening credits and walk to the emergency door in the front of the theater.
Later, a man dressed in black and wearing a gas mask and what looked like body armor entered through the same emergency exit. He lobbed two canisters, and almost instantly the theater filled with smoke.
Dates and Seeger, like others in the theater, thought the man and the smoke were all part of the show. Just as their eyes began to tear up from the smoke, the man fired a shot at the ceiling.
The gunman moved through the crowd and stopped in front of Seeger. He pointed a long rifle at her face and said nothing.
He shot at the person sitting behind her, Seeger said. "I have no idea why he didn't shoot me."
The two dived to the ground. They could feel hot shell casings hitting their legs as the tried to crawl through the dark theater now filled with smoke. Seeger's forehead has a burn from one of the casings.
Her friends urged each other and the people around them to stay quiet, desperate not to draw the attention of the gunman who was working his way up the aisle.
As she huddled on the ground, Seeger could see bodies of women and children lying around her.
Seeger, who has some EMT training, tried to help a man bleeding next to her. She worked to find a pulse but was forced to leave him behind as they tried to flee the theater.
People tried to exit through the main entrance of the theater, Seeger said. By then the gunman had worked his way to the back of the theater, shooting at people as they tried to run.
Seeger estimates she was trapped in the theater for 10 to 15 minutes. When she finally reached the lobby, she saw a police officer cocking a shotgun.
Once outside, Seeger called her father. "My dad is not a sentimental guy, but he was crying on the phone," she said.
James Wilburn also was sitting in the second row of the theater when the emergency door opened. "He was dressed in black," Wilburn said, "wearing a flak jacket and a gas mask."
The man dropped a canister to the floor that began spewing gas before he fired several rounds toward the back of the theater.
Naya Thompson, 21, said the gas spread quickly through the theater and thinks that the gunman may have dropped two canisters.
"It was like tear gas," Thompson said. "I was coughing and choking, and I couldn't breathe."
Benjamin Fernandez, 30, said he was watching the movie when he heard a series of explosions. He said people ran from the theater and there were gunshots as police shouted, "Get down!"
Fernandez said he saw people falling, including one young girl.
Brittany Romero was in theater 10 for the 12:15 a.m. showing. When the fire alarm sounded, people began throwing their popcorn and drinks in the air, assuming it was a practical joke, Romero said.
Salina Jordan, 19, was in theater 8 and saw people fall after they were shot. She said one girl was struck in a cheek, and others were wounded in the stomach, including a girl who looked to be around 9 years old.
Jordan said it sounded like firecrackers until someone ran into theater 8 yelling, "They're shooting out here!"
The police came running in, telling people to run out. Some police were carrying or dragging bodies, she said.
Meghan Walton, 20, of Boulder said she was sitting beside her friend Gage Hankins, 18 of Ohio in Theater 8 when he was shot in the arm before he was rushed out of the theater.
"I saw a whole lot of smoke in the aisle," Walton said. "I saw about three or four bullets shot near the smoke."
Walton was with 10 members of the group Friends: Association of Young People who Stutter.
"I ran outside and was holding his arm that was shot," Walton said. "My eyes were blurred by the smoke. It was like chaos. People were crying hysterically."
She counted 12 people who were bleeding. Ambulances started arriving, but there were not enough to put everyone in them.
"The worst was a man who was shot in the head. He had his hand on his head," Walton said. "They started doubling up, putting two people in the same ambulance. One girl who wasn't injured as badly was placed in a police car and rushed away."
Police set up a command post near the Dillards department store and were interviewing hundreds of possible witnesses. Many were taken by bus to Gateway High School for questioning.
Robert Jones, 28, was in theater 9 when the shooting started.
Jones said when he first saw smoke billowing from the front of the theater, he thought it was a special effect. Shots rang out almost immediately after.
"I thought it was pretty much the end of the world," Roberts said.
Roberts stayed flat on the ground until police came into the theater.
Tammi Stevens said her son, 18-year-old Jacob Stevens, was inside theater 9 when the shooting started. Stevens was waiting for her son at Gateway High School while police interviewed him.
Jacob told his mom that he saw a guy walk into the theater wearing body armor and throw some sort of cannister that then emitted some sort of gas.
"You let your kids go to a late night movie ... you never think something like this would happen," Stevens said.
President Barack Obama addressed the shooting from Fort Myers, Fla., Friday morning.
"We never understand what leads someone to terrorize their fellow human beings like this," Obama said. "Life is very fragile, and it is precious."
The president issued a proclamation Friday, ordering that all American flags be flown at half-staff until sunset on July 25.
Gov. John Hickenlooper released a statement Friday morning.
"It is beyond the power of words to fully express our sorrow this morning," Hickenlooper said. "We appreciate the swift work by local, state and federal law enforcement. Coloradans have a remarkable ability to support one another in times of crisis. This is one of those times."
In a statement released Friday morning, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said that he was "deeply saddened" by the "senseless violence."
The FBI is assisting in the investigation. Officers and deputies responded from almost every local police and sheriff's department in the metro area.
The FBI said that there was no indication that the shooting has any connection to terrorism.
Victims were transported to at least six hospitals. Several of them were rushed to hospitals in police cars. Ages of people injured and killed in the shooting vary.
Shortly after midnight, patients started arriving at the Medical Center of Aurora. A total of 15 patients — ranging from 16 to 31 years old — were sent to the medical center, 12 of them with gunshot wounds.
An additional 3 patients arrived at the hospital Friday afternoon. Information about those patients was not immediately available.
Eight of the patients have been discharged, five victims remain in critical condition and two patients are being prepared for surgery.
All of the patients came in with wounds to their torsos, heads or necks. Doctors said the wounds were caused by a high-caliber weapon or what appeared to be shrapnel.
Swedish Medical Center spokeswoman Nicole Williams says two people injured at the theater have arrived at the hospital in critical condition.
She says emergency workers said there could be several more patients.
Denver Health Medical Center treated six victims from the shooting. All were treated for gunshot wounds and abrasions. Three victims have since been released, the other three remain in fair condition, hospital officials said.
A total of 23 victims were taken to the University of Colorado Hospital. Nine of the victims are currently in critical condition.
Rep. Rhonda Fields of Aurora announced that she is hosting a prayer vigil for "any and all" at 7 p.m. The location of the vigil was changed to 14701 E. Exposition Ave.
Warner Bros. studio released a statement Friday morning saying the studio is "deeply saddened to learn about this shocking incident. The studio has canceled the red carpet premier of 'The Dark Knight Rises' in Paris," The Hollywood Reporter said.
Aurora police are asking anyone with information about the shooting to call Crime Stoppers at 720-913-7867. Families looking for information about loved ones should call 303-739-1862.