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Colorado mourns victims of 'diabolical' movie theater gunman; Obama meets with victims' families

Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

A woman stands during a morning Mass remembering the victims of the movie theater shootings, at the Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Aurora, Colo., on Sunday.

Updated at 9:21 p.m. ET: In community churches, at impromptu memorials and at a public vigil, residents of Aurora, Colo., gathered Sunday to mourn the victims of a movie theater mass-shooting that the governor said was the work of a “diabolical, demonic” individual.

As worshipers pondered how the massacre could have happened, investigators said they don’t know what prompted a gunman police identified as a graduate-school dropout to open fire during a packed midnight premiere of the latest “Batman” film, “The Dark Knight Rises.” The massacre left 12 people dead and 58 injured.

President Barack Obama arrived in Colorado late Sunday afternoon to meet privately with families of the victims and with state and local officials. It is Obama's second trip in less than a month to comfort Colorado residents. In late June he visited Colorado Springs, where hundreds of homes were destroyed in the most devastating wildfire in the state's history.

Speaking from the University of Colorado Hospital, where many of the victims arrived by ambulance, Obama delivered a 10-minute address with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and the Congressional delegation at his side. The president quoted Scripture and shared the story of best friends Allie Young, 19, and Stephanie Davies, 21.

After meeting with grieving families of a massacre that left 12 people dead, dozens injured in a movie theater, President Obama says that the entire nation prays for them.

“When the gunman threw the canisters, he threw them only a few feet from Allie and Stephanie sitting there and watching the film,” Obama said. “Allie stood up seeing that she might need to do something – or at least warn other people -- she was immediately shot.”

A vein in her neck had been punctured, the president continued, and blood spurted from the wound. As Allie dropped to the ground, Stephanie pulled her into the aisle and placed her fingers over her friend’s wound, applying pressure as the gunman continued shooting.  

Allie told Stephanie to run, but she refused and instead called 911 with her free hand.

“Once the SWAT team arrived, Stephanie, with the help of several others, carries Allie across two parking lots where the ambulance was waiting,” Obama said. “Because of Stephanie’s timely reactions, she is going to be fine.”

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President Barack Obama met Sunday with the family of shooting victim Jessica Ghawi in Aurora, Colo.

Elsewhere, the message from Aurora was clear: On the online homepage of the Aurora Sentinel, the hometown paper, a headline blared: "Welcome back to Aurora, Mr. President. We’re hurting, and we need your help. The whole country does."

A public vigil was scheduled for 6:30 p.m. in front of Aurora City Hall, organized by civic, community and religious leaders.

At New Life Community Church in Aurora, Pastor Jeff Noble said he didn’t have an answer to why God would allow such an attack to happen, though he offered some spiritual guidance to his congregation.

“It’s not only OK but it’s good to express your honest feelings to God and to others about how you’re feeling … about this situation,” Noble said.

"The reality is as a pastor, I make the comment, you know, to some degree the wounds heal but there's always a scar and there’s always a hole, something that’s missing in their lives,” he added.

On a day of prayer and reflection, Aurora, Colo. comes together after being torn apart by the shooting rampage early Friday morning. NBC's Miguel Almaguer reports.

"Our culture needs to change,'' Fr. Mauricio Bermudez told a packed Mass at the Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Aurora, Reuters reported. "What kind of people are we becoming? Today, we must change. Today is the day.''

At the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI said he was “deeply shocked” by the “senseless violence” in the Colorado movie theater shootings. In his traditional Sunday blessing, Benedict said he shared the distress of the families and friends of the victims. He said he was praying for all “as a pledge of consolation and strength” for God.

Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

As many as 12 people were killed and 50 injured at a shooting at the Century 16 movie theatre in Aurora, Colo. early Friday during the showing of the latest Batman movie.

The suspect, identified as James Eagan Holmes, was reportedly jailed in solitary confinement, awaiting his first court appearance on Monday. Police have said Holmes planned the massacre with "calculation and deliberation," arming himself with ammunition delivered to his home and school over a period of months.

Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates said “there is absolutely no question that this guy acted alone.”

He said Sunday that Holmes has "lawyered up" and is not talking to investigators.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, speaking on NBC’s "Meet the Press" on Sunday, said the motive for the shooting remains a mystery. He described Holmes as "a twisted, really delusional individual" who had not been cooperating with authorities.

"He was diabolical, demonic," Hickenlooper said.

John Hickenlooper visits Meet the Press to update NBC's David Gregory on the most recent information from the tragic shootings in Aurora, Colo.

Holmes had recently withdrawn from a competitive graduate program in neuroscience at the University of Colorado Denver, where he was one of six students at the school to get National Institutes of Health grant money.

The university said it's investigating whether Holmes used his position as a graduate student to order materials in the potentially deadly booby traps that police said they found in his apartment.

Twenty-four shooting victims remained hospitalized on Sunday at area hospitals, nine in critical condition. They included Ashley Moser, whose 6-year-old daughter, Veronica Moser Sullivan, was among those killed. Ashley Moser, who was shot in the back, was told of her daughter’s death on Saturday by her mother, a chaplain and her doctor.

Among the 12 who died early Friday at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. were fathers, mothers, a little girl – even heroes. NBC's Kristen Dahlgren reports.

Authorities said Holmes' apartment was rigged with jars of liquids, explosives and chemicals that were booby trapped to kill whoever entered it. Bomb technicians neutralized a makeshift explosive device and by late Saturday afternoon, all hazards had been removed from Holmes' apartment, police said.

Police said Sunday they have finished collecting evidence from the apartment, but it's not known yet when the building's residents would be allowed to return home. "Security of the building is still being maintained because of chemical hazards from the suspect's apartment," Aurora police said in a statement.

The theater where the shooting happened is expected to remain off-limits for up to a week as police continue to process evidence.

Meanwhile, the owner of a Colorado gun range said Holmes applied to join the club a few weeks before the shooting but never became a member.

Glenn Rotkovich, of the Lead Valley Range in Byers, said Holmes emailed an application to join on June 25. Rotkovich followed up by calling Holmes' apartment to invite him to a mandatory orientation the following week.

As detectives pored over evidence from the home of Aurora shooting suspect James Holmes, it became clear how complicated the investigation might be. NBC's Mike Taibbi reports.

Rotkovich got Holmes' answering machine and said "it was bizarre -- guttural, freakish at best," The Associated Press reported.

Rotkovich left two other messages but eventually told his staff to watch for Holmes at the July 1 orientation and not to accept him into the club, according to AP.

A man who said he was the suspect’s uncle described his nephew as a “nerd” and “unassuming kid.” The uncle, also named James Holmes, lives in Carmel, Calif. He told KSBW-TV  he was “shocked and horrified” by the news. He said his nephew never acted out during his childhood and teen years.

A standing-room-only crowd jammed the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Bevery Hills, Calif., on Saturday night for the official Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences screening of “The Dark Knight Rises." Academy President Tom Sherak asked for a moment of silence for the victims, deadline.com reported.

NBC's Kate Snow, Julmary Zambrano, Brian LePore, Isolde Raftery and The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this story.

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