James Holmes preliminary hearing: theater shooting carnage described in detail by Aurora police
Officers describe trying to save victims
Last Updated: 138 days ago
ARAPAHOE COUNTY, Colo. - Emotional and gritty new details of the Aurora Theater shooting were revealed Monday, during the first day of the preliminary hearing for the accused shooter.
The courtroom quickly hushed when the red jumpsuit-clad James Holmes entered Monday morning. His beard was full and his brown hair fully regrown. Holmes appeared to be paying attention in court on Monday, but showed little emotion.
Testimony recanted interviews with witnesses who said a "shadowy figure" appeared in the middle of the theater just 20 minutes into the midnight showing of the new Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises."
On July 20, a burst of gunshots and muzzle flashes signaled the shooting rampage had begun, testified Aurora police Detective Matthew Ingui as he recalled what witnesses told him after the mass shooting that killed 12 people and injured 70.
Ingui testified on Monday afternoon during the hearing where an Aurora County judge will decide if there's sufficient evidence to make accused shooter James Holmes stand trial.
Holmes faces 164 counts of murder and attempted murder -- two counts for each victim -- along with one count of possession of an explosive/incendiary device and one count of using a weapon to commit a violent crime.
Ingui said witnesses told him the shooter was standing by an emergency exit near the theater screen.
The killer raked the upper rows with gunfire -- that's where the 12 victims were killed and many others were wounded, Ingui said.
Theater surveillance video showed the panicked reaction to the shooting as theater employees ducked down behind a desk and dozens of theater-goers ran out the front entrance doors. One employee was shown leaping over a counter and running out the door.
Besides Ingui, five Aurora police officers and two pathologists testified Monday about how the shooting began, the arrest of Holmes, how they rescued the victims and the wounds the victims suffered in the July 20 massacre.
-- Holmes Almost Mistaken For Police Officer --
The first witness to take the stand Monday morning was the officer who handcuffed Holmes outside the theater.
Officer Jason Oviatt said he drove to the back of the Aurora Century 16 movie complex as soon as he arrived.
"I saw a trail of blood that led toward one of the theater's exits," Oviatt testified.
The two officers saw a man standing by a white, two-door car outside what they later learned was Theater 9.
Oviatt originally thought the man was an officer because of his helmet and gas mask but then realized something was different.
"All of the officers were moving urgently -- he was just standing there," said Oviatt. "Since we were responding to a scene involving gas, I figured the only person who would have a mask would be the suspect."
"As I got closer to him, I realized he wasn't a police officer, so I held him at gunpoint," Oviatt said.
Asked how he recognized him, Oviatt said, "The closer I got to him, the less it looked like the same equipment I had."
Holmes put his hands up immediately when ordered by another officer. Then Oviatt and another officer moved around the car and ordered Holmes to the ground.
Holmes was silent and "completely compliant" during the arrest, Oviatt testified.
Oviatt said he searched Holmes' back before putting on the handcuffs. In the search, he learned that Holmes was wearing body armor on his legs and under his thick coat.
A semi-automatic handgun was on top of the car, where Holmes had put his hands, and it was within reach, Oviatt said. Later, Oviatt said he saw a rifle near the movie theater exit.
-- Holmes Stripped Of Body Armor --
Oviatt said the officers put Holmes in a police car, then pulled him back out. Officer Aaron Blue, who was the second to testify on Monday, said that Holmes was fidgeting a lot in the back of the patrol car so they pulled him out and cut off all his body armor.
"I decided to remove all of his armor and clothing" to be sure he wasn't armed, Oviatt said.
Oviatt said one officer held each arm as Holmes was undressed -- down to his underwear.
Holmes was described as dripping with sweat.
Oviatt said Holmes was very relaxed and seemed detached from it all -- not a normal emotional response. Holmes simply stared off into the distance and seemed disoriented, and his pupils were big, Oviatt said.
Oviatt testified that Holmes may have been sweating because of the body armor, and there was no reason to believe he was on drugs or alcohol.
Blue testified that during the arrest, he asked Holmes if he had any other weapons, and Holmes said that he had four weapons and that there were improvised explosives at his home that were armed to go off if you trip them.
-- Officers Drove Victims To Hospitals --
After the strip search, Blue said he still saw people exiting Theater 9 and a sergeant told him to get his patrol car to bring people to the hospital because ambulances couldn't get there.
Blue said he drove over curbs and around people to get to another officer who was pulling a woman out of the theater who had been shot in the head and leg.
Blue testified he later learned that was Jessica Ghawi.
Blue said another officer, Officer Williams, drove as Blue held Ghawi in the back seat.
"Every time she moved, she stopped breathing," said Blue.
After Blue testified, the court took a short break before two more officers testified about the bloody scene inside Theater 9 and trying to rescue the victims.
-- Officer Emotional Describing Grisly Scene --
[Editor's note: While all of these details are difficult to read, the following testimony is more graphic.]
Officer Justin Grizzle said he entered Theater 9 through the same exit Holmes had used after seeing screaming people streaming out, many of whom were covered in blood.
"I stepped over a rifle and slipped," Grizzle said. "I almost fell because of all the blood."
Inside, Grizzle said he heard alarms and ringing cell phones; he smelled tear gas and saw several other officers already inside.
Grizzle was emotional when ask to describe the victims he saw.
"There were several bodies throughout the theater lying motionless," he said before pausing.
"Is this difficult for you?" the prosecutor asked.
"Yes," Grizzle replied.
Grizzle testified that he asked the commander to use his patrol car to take people to the hospital because "I think anybody could recognize they needed to go now."
After making four trips and bringing six victims to hospitals, Grizzle said his car was full of gore and "there was so much blood, I could hear it sloshing in the back of my car."
On his first trip, Grizzle said he took two people to Aurora South. The female in the back seat turned out to be Ashley Moser. The man in the front passenger's seat kept asking, "Is my wife going to live?"
Grizzle testified that Ashley Moser was shot in the face and stomach. The man was also injured.
For about half the trip, with lights and sirens on, Grizzle said he had to restrain the man from jumping out of the car.
"The man kept asking where his 7-year-old daughter was," Grizzle said.
The next officer to testify, Specialist Sgt. Jerald Jonsgaard, said he found that little girl inside and she was Veronica Moser Sullivan.
"I checked for a pulse, she was dead," the emotional officer said. "I could see one shot to the abdomen area."
Veronica's mother, Ashley Moser, survived but lost her baby in a miscarriage and is still struggling with paralysis.
Jonsgaard also described the items he found inside the theater, including two to three shell casings and magazines in front of the theater. He also testified to seeing an 870-model Remington shotgun with an extended magazine that was not police-issued.
On his third trip to the hospital, Grizzle said he took Caleb Medley to University Hospital. He told the court Medley was badly injured.
Grizzle said he would yell at Medley every time Medley stopped breathing.
"Don't f---ing die on me ... don't f---ing die on me," Grizzle said. Medley did not die and survived to see his wife give birth days after the shooting.
-- Holmes Bought Movie Tickets On July 8 --
During the testimony of the fifth Aurora police officer, photographs and video from inside the theater building were shown.
Aurora police Detective Matthew Ingui said he looked through surveillance video after the shooting and also had information through Holmes' cell phone that Holmes bought the ticket on July 8 -- two weeks before the shooting.
Video showed that he also had it scanned three times after midnight on July 20, according to Ingui.
In court, video from five cameras were submitted as evidence. They showed Holmes in dark pants and a light overshirt going into the building and scanning his ticket on his phone. He appeared to have trouble at the kiosk getting the machine to read his phone and walked around a bit.
Other videos showed him milling about the concession area and turning toward Theater 9.
A second 2-minute video showed another camera angle after the shooting had begun. The right side of the camera frame shows people streaming out of the doors of the building and the left side of the frame shows theater employees diving for cover. One theater worker was also seen jumping over the counter and running out the door.
Also submitted into evidence were approximately 18 photos. The photographs and Ingui's testimony revealed where 10 of the dead were found.
The color photos -- taken days after the showing -- also showed red rods and yellow rods showing the trajectory that the bullets had taken through the seats and through the walls.
Pathologists testify about wounds victims suffered
The fourth and final part of Monday's testimony began the process of establishing each count against Holmes, with two pathologists taking the stand to describe how the victims died and a detective who interviewed several wounded survivors.
The two forensic pathologists each performed six autopsies. Some of the victims, such as Alex Teves, died from one wound.
Matthew McQuinn was hit by nine bullets -- the most of any victims. The 27-year-old McQuinn died using his body to protect his girlfriend, Samantha Yowler, 26, who survived a gunshot wound to her leg.
Ghawi was struck by six bullets, including one to the head, Arapahoe County Coroner Dr. Michael J. Doberson testified.
The youngest victim, Veronica Moser Sullivan, suffered multiple gunshots. She had one gunshot to the pelvis, one to the wrist, one to the knee and one to the abdomen, Dr. Kelly Lear-Kaul testified.
Detective Todd Fredericksen testified about 16 victims who were injured but survived -- some with minor injuries such as a torn tendon caused by a fall and others with life-altering paralysis caused by gunshots.
Fredericksen interviewed the victims over a period of more than a month. One of those interviews included Ashley Moser, who described the shooting like "fireworks." He said Moser told him she was shot and collapsed on the floor, on top of her daughter, Veronica. She said she was paralyzed right away and had to be dragged out of the theater, Fredericksen testified. At the time of the Aug. 7 interview, she was still in the ICU, Fredericksen said.
Testimony Monday ended at 4 p.m. The preliminary hearing is scheduled to continue Tuesday.
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