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'In shock and covered in blood': Report describes chaos after Aurora shootings

Karl Gehring / The Denver Post

Twelve people were killed and 58 injured when a gunman opened fire during the premiere of a Batman movie.

A newly released document describes gridlock and confusion after the massacre at a Colorado movie theater last summer — bleeding victims swarming emergency vehicles and a traffic jam caused by a crush of police, firefighters and paramedics.

The response was complicated by initial reports of two bombs in the theater and even by a nearby street-paving operation, according to the document, a review by the Aurora, Colo., fire department published Wednesday by The Denver Post.

Almost as many victims were taken to the hospital by police as by ambulances, and police had to drive some victims up a grassy hill behind the theater to get them help, the newspaper reported.

“There’s always lessons to be learned and lessons to be shared,” Aurora Fire Chief Mike Garcia told the newspaper. “I’m so proud of the response of our firefighters.”

Twelve people were killed and 58 injured on July 20, 2012, when a gunman stormed the midnight release of the Batman movie “The Dark Knight Rises.” Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for James Holmes, for whom a judge has entered a not-guilty plea.

Barry Gutierrez / AP file

Tom Sullivan, center, embraces family members outside a high school where he had been searching for his son, Alex Sullivan, who was killed when a gunman opened fire in a Colorado movie theater last summer.

The fire report does not assign blame or even establish missteps in the emergency response. Instead, it describes the terrified disorder that gripped the Century 16 theater complex and its surroundings in the first hour after the shootings:

  • Paving on South Sable Boulevard, the main road closest to the theater, cut traffic to one lane, and parking lots outside the theater were packed because it was opening night for an expected blockbuster film.
  • 1,400 frantic moviegoers ran from the theater into the parking lot. “I encountered hundreds of people running and screaming for help,” one member of Aurora fire Battalion 1 said. “Many people appeared wounded. Others were just running.”
  • The theater itself had only two entry points, and while the first fire engine to arrive used one of them, police quickly blocked both.
  • Because of reports that someone was shooting, moviegoers got as far away as they could, and patients wound up in eight places, including a Dillard’s parking lot, some almost 2,000 feet away.

One lieutenant from Aurora fire’s Tower 8 who worked the Dillard’s scene told the review: “Several people were unsure if they had been shot since they were in shock and covered in blood.”

The Aurora police chief and other city officials declined to discuss the shooting, citing a court-imposed gag order. An outside review of the response is on hold because prosecutors worry it could impede their case against Holmes, the newspaper said.

Aurora police did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday from NBC News. An Aurora fire spokeswoman declined comment to NBC News.

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