President Barack Obama said the families of those killed in a Colorado movie theater shooting told him stories of “the wonderful lives” lost, a day before the lone suspect was to face charges in the attack that left 12 dead and 58 injured.
A solemn Obama said he “had a chance to give folks some hugs and to shed some tears, but also to share some laughs as they remembered” the victims of the rampage that occurred about 12:30 a.m. July 20, a half-hour into a showing of the new Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises,” in Aurora.
James Holmes, a 24-year-old graduate student in neurosciences at the University of Colorado-Denver, is to be arraigned today in the state’s deadliest shooting since the Columbine High School massacre in April 1999. Aurora police said he’ll be represented in Arapahoe County Court by the public defender’s office.
Obama met with the families, as well as with some of the wounded, for almost three hours at the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora. Those killed in the theater ranged in age from 6 to 51. The meetings were followed by a public memorial observance.
“I hope that all those who are in attendance understand that the entire country will be there in prayer and reflection,” the president said before the ceremony.
Family members of the victims, some visibly in tears, left the observance clutching yellow roses as a choir led the audience in singing “Amazing Grace.”
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper read the names of each victim, after which the hundreds of people at the Aurora Municipal Center called out, “We will remember.”
Hickenlooper said Coloradans stepped up to help each other amid the tragedy.
“It is amazing that one bad person has brought out so much good,” the governor said. He credited people in the theater, including three who died while shielding companions from bullets, for averting even greater casualties.
By 6 p.m. local time yesterday (8 p.m. in New York), 22 of those injured remained in area hospitals, down from 25 in the morning, according to representatives of the medical centers. Nine of the patients were in critical condition, unchanged from earlier in the day.
Investigators are examining how Holmes obtained materials used in the shootings and to booby-trap his apartment, said Police Chief Dan Oates on CBS News’s “Face the Nation.”
“All evidence we have, every single indicator is that it was all Mr. Holmes’s activity and that he wasn’t particularly aided by anyone else,” Oates said.
Holmes was paid a $26,000 annual stipend in the neuroscience program at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, university spokeswoman Jacque Montgomery said by telephone yesterday.
The student spent $15,000 on weapons and ammunition over the past several months and had 90 packages delivered to his workplace at the university, said a law enforcement official who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity.
A search of Holmes’s apartment in Aurora revealed 30 improvised hand grenades and several containers filled with gunpowder and gasoline, said the official. Authorities recovered a computer, a Batman poster and mask and other paraphernalia related to the superhero, the official said.
The grenades were made from 30 aerial shells -- softball- sized black-plastic objects that are used in fireworks displays -- whose pyrotechnics had been replaced with black powder, the law enforcement official said. Ten gallons of gasoline were also found.
Had Holmes used the right mixture of substances and they were set off, the ensuing fireball could have engulfed the third floor where he lived and the one below, the official said.
Authorities seized two .40-caliber pistols, a Glock G22 and a Glock G23; a Smith & Wesson M&P .223 caliber semiautomatic rifle; and a Remington 870 Express Tactical 12-gauge shotgun, said the federal official.
Investigators found that Holmes began buying the weapons in May at stores in the Aurora region, the official said. The suspect hadn’t committed offenses that would have raised alarms during background checks, the official said.
Police are investigating deliveries to Holmes’s apartment and his workplace at the University of Colorado-Denver. Montgomery said university officials had no information on the packages Holmes received at the campus or what might have been in them.
The suspect was a graduate student in neuroscience at University of Colorado-Denver who enrolled in June 2011 and was in the process of withdrawing, according to a statement from the school. It said Holmes had a grant from the National Institutes of Health under a program for pre-thesis Ph.D. students aimed at “training outstanding neuroscientists and academicians who will make significant contributions to neurobiology.”
The attack was the worst mass shooting in the U.S. since November 2009, when 13 people were killed at Fort Hood in Texas.
To contact the reporters on this story: James Nash in Aurora, Colorado at email@example.com; Roger Runningen in Aurora, Colorado at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at email@example.com