AURORA, Colo. – An eager audience forgoing sleep to take in the midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” instead was witness Friday to a bloody mass shooting at a suburban Denver movie theater. Police said a man clad in black threw a canister that spewed smoke before he opened fire. Witnesses said that at first, they thought it was a prank or a stunt. Then the gunman shot steadily at the audience, not speaking. Some of their accounts:
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Jennifer Seeger, 25, from Aurora said she was in the second row, about four feet from the gunman, when he pointed a gun at her face.
At first, “I was just a deer in headlights. I didn’t know what to do,” she said. Then she ducked to the ground.
The gunman shot people seated behind her.
“There were bullet (casings) just falling on my head. They were burning my forehead,” Seeger said.
The gunman fired steadily except when he stopped 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,” she said.
Seeger said she began crawling toward an exit when she saw a girl about 14 years old, “lying lifeless on the stairs.”
She saw a man with a bullet wound in his back and tried to check his pulse, but “I had to go. I was going to get shot.”
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Sylvana Guillen, 20, said when a man appeared at the front of the theater clad in dark clothing looking like a SWAT team member as Catwoman made an appearance in the movie, the audience “thought it was a joke, a hoax.”
Then they heard gunshots and smelled smoke from a canister he was carrying, and Guillen knew it was real.
The gunman began walking toward the seats and firing. Guillen said she told her friend, Misha Mostashiry, “You better get ready to be shot.”
Mostashiry, also 20, said they couldn’t tell where the gunman was.
“All you could do is hope he didn’t come for you,” she said.
“We ran to the emergency exit and nothing happened. Nothing happened to us,” Mostashiry said, with surprise and relief in her voice.
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Tanner Coon told the NBC “Today” show he was at the movie with a friend and his friend’s 12-year-old brother when about 20 minutes into the movie the gunman appeared. Coon said that when they realized they were being shot at, they got on the floor in front of their seats.
After “a period of quiet” everyone started to run out.
He said he went to a row behind him and “slipped on some blood and landed” on a woman. He said he shook her, telling her they needed to get out, but she was unresponsive and he “presumed she was dead.” He said the 12-year-old was “freaking out” and “really upset” after they escaped the theater.
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Nichole Griek said her 13- and 14-year-old daughters were in the theater when they saw a man dressed in black and wearing a mask step out of the shadows at the front of the theater. They thought he was part of the movie presentation, before he threw out a canister that started smoking and opened fire.
Griek’s daughters and their friends bolted from the theater, leaving behind their cellphones, shoes and other belongings. Griek’s daughters were unhurt.
“You’d think you’d be able to drop your kid off at the movie theaters, but you can’t,” she said.
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Jordan Crofter, 19, of Aurora said the suspected gunman “looked like an assassin ready to go war.”
Crofter was sitting on the left side of the theater and toward the front when the door swung open and a silhouette appeared in front of the street lights.
He said the shooter was calm and almost strutted in, then pulled up his rifle and started shooting, stopping only to reload – like “shooting fish in a barrel.”
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Julia Nguyen, 17, said she saw something fly across the theater, which she thought, at first, was a stink bomb, and then saw a flash. Then she saw the gunman.
“He was absolutely quiet. He didn’t say a word. He just started firing rounds,” said Nguyen, who ran out of theater as fast as she could with her friend Erin Post, 15.
Outside the theater, they found a 16-year-old bloody and limping boy, suffering from wounds to his thigh and lower calf.
They said they got the teen into the backseat of their car and used belts to put a makeshift tourniquet to stop the bleeding from his leg. They said he kept saying he wanted to find his little sister and that he wanted to pray with them.
They prayed in the car until an ambulance could take him to the hospital.