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Colorado community mourns victims of shooting

President Obama meets with families

Mourners lit candles Sunday at a memorial behind the Aurora movie theater where 12 people were shot to death.SHANNON STAPLETON/REUTERS

AURORA, Colo. — President Obama came to this city Sunday to meet with survivors of the shooting rampage at a movie theater last week, visiting the victims and their families and leading the country in mourning the 12 people killed in the attack.

“Even in the darkest of days, life continues and people are strong,’’ Obama said shortly after meeting with victims and their families. He described sharing hugs, tears, and laughs as they offered stories about loved ones and acts of heroism.

“I come to them not so much as president as I do as a father and as a husband,’’ he said.


Across the city, residents gathered at makeshift memorials to grieve as a community while condolences poured in from places as far away as Hollywood and the Vatican. As the families of victims struggled with their loss, new details emerged about the suspected gunman, James Holmes, and what happened as he reportedly fired into a crowded theater during a midnight premiere of ‘‘The Dark Knight Rises’’ on Friday.

The police said on Sunday that they had finished collecting evidence out of Holmes’s apartment, which was booby-trapped with a complex web of incendiary devices and explosives, and they allowed residents of neighboring buildings to move back in. Holmes’s building, however, remained on lockdown, police said, because of chemical hazards in his unit.

The police believe that Holmes began planning his rampage months ago, when he began acquiring the materials that he would use in the shooting and to rig his apartment.

There were also clues as to how Holmes might have paid for the weapons and other materials he acquired. He was receiving a $26,000 stipend, in monthly installments of $2,166, for a National Institutes of Health neuroscience training grant for the graduate program he was enrolled in at the University of Colorado Denver Anschutz Medical Campus, a spokeswoman said. Holmes withdrew from the program last month without explanation, the university said.


Holmes was being held in solitary confinement at an Aurora jail, awaiting his arraignment Monday morning.

Obama arrived around 3:30 p.m. local time and was greeted on the tarmac by local officials, including the governor and the mayor and police chief of Aurora. He headed straight for the University of Colorado Hospital, which received 23 shooting victims.

The president, along with his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, suspended all campaigning for the weekend.

Condolences poured in to the small Colorado city from across the country and around the world. Pope Benedict XVI added his condolences during his Sunday morning blessing.

“I was deeply shocked by the senseless violence,’’ he said.

In Aurora, hundreds of people gathered throughout the day around a growing memorial across the street from the theater. A collection of teddy bears, flowers, posters, candles and notes steadily grew as friends, families, and strangers gathered, seeking solace in community. The city held a vigil Sunday evening.

‘‘We need some time to grieve then we’ll move ahead,’’ Mayor Steve Hogan told the ABC affiliate in Denver. ‘‘Things will change in Aurora, but we do have an opportunity to be a better city. We’ll be a great community again.’’

As residents turned their attention to grieving, investigators continued to collect evidence on the attack. Officials and witnesses reported that Holmes’s AR-15 assault rifle probably jammed during the assault, forcing him to use one of his less powerful weapons and perhaps saving lives.


Holmes displayed behavior that a gun range owner thought was strange, but it is still unclear whether Holmes’s professors and others in his 35-student PhD program noticed anything unusual about his behavior, the Associated Press reported. His reasons for quitting the program in June, just a year into the five- to seven-year program, remained a mystery.

Police said Holmes began buying guns at Denver-area stores nearly two months before the shooting. He also received at least 50 packages in four months at his home and the University of Colorado that authorities are investigating to see whether they contained materials for the booby traps that police found in his apartment.

Holmes e-mailed an application to join the Lead Valley Range, a gun range in Byers, on June 25 in which he said he was not a user of illegal drugs or a convicted felon, owner Glenn Rotkovich told the AP. When Rotkovich called to invite him to a mandatory orientation the following week, he said he heard a message on Holmes’s voice mail that was ‘‘bizarre — guttural, freakish at best.’’

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

Even as families began making funeral arrangements, local and national leaders were fielding the questions that follow such tragedies, particularly those that have to do with guns and the laws that regulate them.


Over the past two months, authorities said, Holmes purchased two handguns, a shotgun, and an assault rifle and about 6,000 rounds of ammunition. He also bought a gas mask and body armor that covered him as he carried out his attack.

‘‘This immediately leads to the issue of gun control,’’ Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said Sunday on CNN. ‘‘To think that somehow increased gun control is the answer, that would have to be proved.’’

Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado offered a similar response on CNN about whether he would support heavier restrictions on gun purchases. ‘‘This is a case of evil, of someone who was an aberration of nature,’’ he said. ‘‘If it wasn’t one weapon, it would have been another.’’

Others, including Mayor ­Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, have called for a renewed national discussion on gun control. On Sunday, Bloomberg reiterated a call to Obama and Romney to make gun control an issue in the presidential campaign.

On top of a small hill overlooking the memorial, Greg ­Zanis erected 12 white crosses in honor of each of the dead. It was a familiar task for Zanis. After the Columbine High School shooting more than a decade ago, he delivered 15 crosses to Littleton, Colo., for those who had died.

Zanis, who builds electric cars for a living, has made it a weekend hobby to build and deliver crosses to people around the country who have experienced tragedy. He said he had received calls asking him to bring crosses to Aurora, so he constructed them Saturday morning and then made the 16-hour drive from his home in Aurora, Ill.


Lori Furman, 53, laid a bouquet of flowers on the memorial Sunday morning when she visited with her husband, Ray. Both wore black ribbons that they got at church earlier in the morning.

‘‘It’s been a hard summer,’’ Furman said. ‘‘We had friends, acquaintances who lost their homes in the fire. Now this.’’

Standing next to the memorial, Jeannie Donelson removed her white-framed sunglasses and dried her eyes with a scrunched tissue. This tragedy was close to home. One of the boys who died was a friend of her niece and nephew. The 6-year-old victim was related to a friend of her niece’s.

‘‘I guess just to be able to say goodbye,’’ Donelson, 49, said of why she visited the memorial. ‘‘Bring some closure.’’

Moses Kalemba and his wife, Theopista, arrived in town from New Hampshire hours after the shooting for a wedding on Sunday. “I wouldn’t say we felt obligated, we just felt it was the right thing to do,’’ Moses Kalemba said of their visit. ‘‘I think this kind of tragedy is one of those things that really gets to you.’’

Residents who had been displaced by the threat of explosives in Holmes’s apartment were looking to return to their normal routines.

Jimmy Davis said the end was in sight, literally, as he strode toward his small apartment building this morning after spending two nights in a motel.

‘‘I feel like a hurricane victim or something,’’ he said. ‘‘But now I am going home, turning on the air-conditioner and chilling out.’’

Dmitri Shchekochikhin, 27, an international fellow and researcher from Moscow who is studying at the same university Holmes had attended, was not so fortunate. He lived in Holmes’s building and on Sunday was allowed only to recover some essentials: two cellphones, a computer, a thumb drive, a pair of shoes, and a bag of clothes.

Unshaven , Shchekochikhin, who has been staying with friends, said he took only his passport, wallet, and plane tickets with him after police instructed him to evacuate in the early hours of Friday.

‘‘I had finished a big project and then drank a bottle of dry, red wine and fell asleep,’’ he said. Several hours later, the police banged on his door.