The scene inside the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater where shooting suspect James Holmes, 25, opened fire on July 20 was so horrific that veteran police officers were brought to tears describing it on Monday during the first day of a preliminary hearing in the case.
Holmes is charged with 166 counts of murder, attempted murder and weapons charges in the case, where he is accused of killing 12 people and wounding 57 during a chaotic shooting spree in a movie theater at a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight.”
According to a description of the testimony, CNN reported that Aurora police officer Justin Grizzle said the floor was slippery with blood and first responders were met with the eerie sound of cell phones ringing over and over again.
Grizzle, a 13-year veteran of the force, was brought to tears as he spoke about rushing to shuttle wounded victims to the hospital in his police cruiser. Among those he ferried was shooting victim Ashley Moser and her husband, who, despite suffering a head wound, insisted Grizzle turn back to the theater to search for the couple’s daughter, at one point attempting to jump out of the vehicle in his determination. The six-year-old, Veronica Moser-Sullivan, was shot four times and was among those killed, while Ashley was paralyzed from the waist down and miscarried after being shot.
Holmes reportedly had no visible reaction to the testimony. Investigators said they found 209 live rounds of .223 ammunition and 15 cartridges of .40-caliber rounds inside the auditorium. When they confronted Holmes outside the theater, he was wearing a helmet and gas mask, with his hands atop his car and the rifle he used in the shooting on the ground near the building.
The preliminary hearing is designed to give prosecutors a chance to prove to the judge that there is enough evidence to proceed to trial. It is expected to go on for several days and feature a number of witnesses and first responders describing the horrific murder scene.
Holmes, dressed in dark pants, a light-colored shirt and a ski cap, was shown in surveillance video inside the theater using a cell phone at a ticket kiosk to print out a ticket prosecutors said he purchased nearly two weeks before.
Though no video is available from the auditorium where the attack took place, witnesses have said that Holmes tossed a canister insider before opening fire, with screaming moviegoers running to escape as he shot randomly while walking up the theater’s steps.
Police Sgt. Gerald Jonsgaard testified that Holmes stopped the theater door from locking by using a small piece of plastic commonly used to hold tablecloths onto a picnic table, noting that he also noticed a shotgun and a large drum magazine that appeared to be jammed on the floor of the theater afterwards.
Holmes did not speak during the first day of the hearing, and was described as having bushy brown hair and a long beard, a change from the first images of him in court following the shooting, when he had bright red hair and was clean shaven.
Officers described Holmes as “very, very relaxed” and “unnaturally calm” in the aftermath of the shooting, his pupils dilated and his body relaxed as he put up no struggle while being dragged away to be searched. Another officer said Holmes matter-of-factly, and without prompting, warned detectives about the complex series of booby traps and bombs awaiting them at his apartment.
Attorneys for Holmes are expected to argue that their client is incompetent to stand trial due to “diminished capacity,” a phrase that describes a person’s ability or inability “to make adequately considered decisions” regarding his or her legal representation because of “mental impairment or for some other reason.”
If he is ruled incompetent to stand trial, CNN reported that the hearings could be one of the only opportunities for victims and the public to get an understanding of what happened that night and why.
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