Officers use a fire truck lift to inspect the apartment where suspect James Holmes lived in Aurora on Saturday. (Reuters)
Aurora (Colorado), July 21 (AP): Authorities today began the intricate process of disarming booby traps in the apartment of the suspect behind the Colorado movie theatre rampage that killed 12 people.
They are hoping to find clues inside to the motive for the shootings without causing an explosion that could destroy key evidence.
Scores of law enforcement officials, including bomb squad technicians and dozens of federal agents, removed one trip wire and one explosive device inside James Holmes’s apartment today, and “other devices” are in there, Aurora police Sergeant Cassidee Carlson said. “We have been successful in defeating the first threat,” Carlson said. The traps were meant to kill the first people entering the apartment, she said.
Kaitlyn Fonzi, 20, a graduate student who lives in the apartment below Holmes’s, said she heard techno-like music reverberating from his flat around midnight. She went upstairs and felt the door was unlocked, but she did not open it. “I yelled out and told him I was going to call the cops and went back to my apartment,” she said.
When Fonzi called police, she was told they were busy with a shooting. She said she was shaken to hear the apartment was booby-trapped, and suspected the music had been set on a timer at the time of the shootings. “I’m concerned if I had opened the door, I would have set it off,” she said.
Holmes, 24, was arrested early yesterday outside the suburban Denver theatre with high-power weapons and ammunition and charged with the rampage that killed 12 and injured 58 during the midnight showing of the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises.
Makeshift memorials sprang up for the victims, including a US navy sailor, an aspiring sportscaster and a man celebrating his 27th birthday. In his radio address today, President Barack Obama urged Americans to pray “for the victims of this terrible tragedy, for the people who knew them and loved them, for those who are still struggling to recover”.
Seven of the wounded remained in critical condition today, some with injuries that could be permanent, a trauma surgeon said.
Police had delayed entering Holmes’s apartment yesterday after learning it had been booby-trapped with trip wires and possible explosives, and evacuated several buildings around it.
Experts entered the apartment today and began to disarm the trip wires one by one to render them harmless, hoping not to detonate anything that could eliminate evidence against the suspect or information about a motive. “We don’t want to lose evidential value,” Carlson said.
About 30 ammunition shells and up to 30 other devices in the apartment also need to be disarmed, she said. “A controlled detonation or another triggering mechanism” might be required, she said.
Police grimly went door to door late yesterday with a list of victims killed in the worst mass shooting in the US in recent years, notifying families who had held out hope that their loved ones had been spared.
The victims included 23-year-old Micayla Medek, said Anita Busch, the cousin of Medek’s father. The family took the news hard, but knowing her fate after waiting without word brought them some peace, Busch said.
“I hope this evil act, that this evil man doesn’t shake people’s faith in God,” she said.
Besides Medek, relatives confirmed that Alex Sullivan and Jessica Ghawi were among those killed, Sullivan on his 27th birthday, as they gathered for a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises.
The suspect’s stellar academic record, apparent shy demeanour and lack of a criminal background made the attack even more difficult to fathom. It also was not known why the suspect chose a movie theatre to stage the assault, or whether he intended some twisted, symbolic link to the film’s violent scenes.