July 23, 2012

Rifle jam may have prevented further loss in Colorado

Also, police say the alleged shooter who killed 12 in a Colorado movie theater came close to eluding capture in the guise of a SWAT team officer.

By DAVID A. FAHRENTHOLD THOMAS HEATH and JOEL ACHENBACH The Washington Post

AURORA, Colo. - Sunday was a prayerful day of official and unofficial mourning in this shattered community. President Obama flew into town to console the families of those slain and wounded, thousands of residents gathered for an evening memorial service, and hundreds more huddled in the rain for a prayer vigil across the street from the site of Friday's shooting rampage.

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Dylan Bowen, 13, right, holds onto his mother Lorri Hastings as they pray on Sunday, in Aurora, Colo., during a prayer vigil for the victims of Friday's mass shooting at a movie theater.

AP

Barack Obama, Daniel Oates, Steve Hogan
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President Obama greets Aurora Police Chief Daniel Oates as Mayor Steve Hogan, right, watches after the president’s arrival at Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado on Sunday.

The Associated Press

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It now appears that the casualties could have been even more horrific. The gunman's semiautomatic assault rifle jammed and prevented him from emptying a 100-round magazine of ammunition, according to a law enforcement source.

There also emerged a new twist in the narrative that indicates that the alleged shooter, identified by authorities as James Holmes, 24, did not immediately surrender to police and could have come close to eluding capture by slipping away in the guise of a SWAT team officer.

Holmes was not cooperating with officials as he was being held in solitary confinement at a Denver-area county detention facility, Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates told The Associated Press.

"He lawyered up. He's not talking to us," the chief said. It could be months before they learn the motive behind the shootings that left 12 dead and 58 injured, with authorities working with FBI behavioral analysts and looking into Holmes' relationships.

Police have said that Holmes began buying guns at Denver-area stores nearly two months before Friday's shooting and that he received at least 50 packages in four months at his home and at school. Also on Sunday, a gun range owner east of Denver said he recently rejected a membership application from Holmes in part because of a bizarre voice mail greeting on Holmes' phone.

Holmes, being held without bond at the Arapahoe County Jail, will appear in court for the first time today.

"Aurora is strong," said one handwritten sign at a makeshift memorial site marked with 12 white crosses near the Century 16 movie complex, where the gunman burst into a midnight screening of the new Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises."

Sunday evening, thousands of people filled a plaza in front of Aurora's city hall for the memorial vigil. The event blended familiar rituals of mass grief -- American flags waved, and mourners laid flowers and lighted candles -- with symbols of the young fan community that had gathered in the theater that night. One man held up a sign that combined the Batman bat silhouette with the "C" on Colorado's flag. A woman paired the bat with a bright-red heart. "Hope Lives," that sign said. Police officers watched from the rooftops.

Obama flew from Washington on Sunday afternoon and went to the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora to meet with the families of victims. Ten of the victims are still being treated in the hospital, with seven listed in critical condition.

"Sat down with President Obama. He has been incredible. He too has agreed not to mention the shooter's name," tweeted Jordan Ghawi, brother of Jessica Ghawi, an aspiring sports reporter killed in the attack.

This is a swing state in the presidential election, but the candidates have pulled down their television ads. Obama chose not to attend the large memorial service later in the evening; he flew on to the West Coast.

Nor has he tried to use the mass shooting to call for any new gun-control laws. Press secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Air Force One during the flight to Colorado, "The president's view is that we can take steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them under existing law."

A law enforcement source, who is close to the investigation but not authorized to speak publicly, said something went awry in the killer's planned assault at the theater. Police said the alleged gunman had three weapons: a Remington shotgun, a Smith & Wesson M&P assault rifle and a Glock .40-caliber handgun.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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People visit a memorial for the victims in the shooting across the street from the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, Colo., on Sunday.

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