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Eyewitness Chandler Brannon, 25, sits outside Gateway High School where witnesses were brought for questioning after a shooting at a movie theater showing the Batman movie "The Dark Knight Rises," Friday, July 20, 2012 in Aurora. A gunman wearing a gas mask set off an unknown gas and fired into the crowded movie theater killing 12 people and injuring at least 50 others, authorities said. (AP Photo/Barry Gutierrez)
Witnesses describe terror as gunman opens fire in movie theater

First Published Jul 20 2012 07:31 am • Last Updated Jul 20 2012 02:16 pm

AURORA, Colo. • An eager audience forgoing sleep to take in the midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises" instead were witnesses 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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At least 12 people were killed and about 50 were being treated at Denver area hospitals after a shooting at a midnight showing of Batman, the youngest a 4-month-old baby who has been released.

Twenty-two people were at University of Colorado Hospital, including the baby, for gunshot and shrapnel wounds.

Many victims being treated in at least six hospitals were under 40, including a 6-year-old taken to Children’s Hospital Colorado. The oldest reported patient is 45.

Besides gunshot wounds, some patients at the Medical Center of Aurora were treated for chemical exposure, most likely from tear gas. Patients there ranged from 16 to 31.

An emergency room doctor at the University of Colorado Hospital says the scene was chaotic, with patients dropped off by police cars, ambulances and regular cars.

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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."


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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."

"I thought it was showmanship. I didn’t think it was real," she said.

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.

On their dash to the exit, they saw a man slip in the blood of a wounded woman he was trying to help.

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