On March 12 a judge entered a not guilty plea on behalf of James Holmes, the man Aurora Colorado police say single-handedly killed twelve theater-goers and wounded dozens more on July 20, 2012. On April 1 the prosecution will announce whether it will seek the death penalty in the case. Yet abundant witness testimony suggests Holmes likely had at least one other accomplice and may not have even been the shooter.
The following detailed article provides a wealth of information and analysis on this tragic and shocking incident that deserves a broad airing. Like the Sandy Hook School shooting, the Aurora episode has numerous peculiarities and unanswered questions. It is republished here with minor editing and the kind permission of original author Vera Blake.
Disclosure: Vera Blake wrote a piece in support of my writings and public statements on the Sandy Hook shooting that appeared on her blog in January.-JT
[Originally published February 17, 2013]
On February 7th, The Denver Post reported that some victims in the Aurora theater shooting have been harassed by conspiracy theorists since the tragedy in Colorado on July 20th, 2012:
Prosecutors in the Aurora theater-shooting case have re-iterated their request that victims’ names be redacted from court documents, saying that victims and their families continue to suffer harassment from conspiracy theorists …
In the filing … prosecutors say victims “have expressed concerns for their privacy, and personal safety.” Some victims are key witnesses in the case, the filing states.
In the wake of recent skepticism surrounding the events of Sandy Hook, many will roll their eyes at the thought of another conspiracy theory given that the evidence against lone suspect James Holmes has seemed overwhelming.
But when taking the time to examine the case further the truth isn’t so clear-cut. That’s because the official story—that Holmes acted alone in killing 12 and wounding 58 others—is contradicted by the following:
- How could Holmes have been a sole perpetrator when multiple witnesses in Theater 9 said they saw or perceived more than one person carrying out the attacks, and reported at least two descriptions of additional suspects to police?
- How could Holmes have acted alone when multiple witnesses in adjacent Theater 8 reported the detonation of a gas canister that was coordinated with the attack in Theater 9?
- How do police account for two gas masks found at the scene that they say didn’t belong to Holmes?
- Why were leads of possible additional suspects never seriously pursued by law enforcement?
So why hasn’t this accomplice evidence been reported widely since the shooting? For one, Aurora law enforcement’s high level of confidence in the lone-gunman angle effectively cemented the official story. Then, somewhat predictably, the mainstream media backed off from the hard line of questioning.
Moreover, the gag order that Judge William Blair Sylvester issued on the day of the shooting went a long way toward shrouding the court case in secrecy from the beginning. Sylvester has kept court documents and filings secret because he believes that “disclosure of the court records would be ‘contrary to public interest’ and ‘could jeopardize the ongoing investigation.'”
Contrary to public interest? Judging by the viral level of local and national coverage in the case, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Sylvester has since denied requests made by a consortium of 21 news organizations to lift the gag order, but did rule last August that he would release some documents in the case. As NBC News indicated, the consortium was “seeking access to a range of records…including affidavits of probable cause, arrest warrants, search warrants, and request for or court orders for production of records—citing the public’s right of access to public records.”
Despite Sylvester’s slight compromise, it’s worth noting The Denver Post‘s incensed reaction a week after the gag order was issued.
The case is proceeding under such sweeping secrecy rules that the public cannot even see the case docket, which is akin to a table of contents. The orders have gone far beyond the typical ‘gag order.’
The secrecy in the case has been disturbing. Mandating that the University of Colorado, for instance, not release any records regarding the shooting suspect, James Eagan Holmes, is a step too far and one that appears unprecedented.
Ordering detectives and evidence technicians who are investigating the case to keep their mouths closed about what they’ve found is one thing. Telling an outside entity that has nothing to do with law enforcement to ignore public records laws is entirely another. It is unclear whether District Judge William Blair Sylvester even has the authority to do that.
But that’s not the only disconcerting element of the shroud of secrecy that has descended on this case. The veil the court system has dropped on routine proceedings is so impenetrable, the public cannot even see the titles of the motions and other actions filed in the case, much less the contents.
That degree of secrecy is very unusual. Typically, a judge will consider such requests individually. If, for instance, the release of a particular document might be considered prejudicial to the defendant, its contents might remain under seal though the public could at least see its title.
Forword to the Accomplice Theory
While the grander conspiracy theory behind the Aurora shooting entails a staged Manchurian Candidate-like attack with a government endgame of gun control, this post will focus on more direct evidence that contravenes the official lone-wolf narrative in an attempt to support the probability that Holmes did not act alone.
This writer remains open to the possibility that Holmes may not have participated in the actual attack, but currently concludes that in light of all known evidence, it’s more likely that he was involved.
Whatever level of conspiracy that skeptics perceive, they should not be faulted for thinking critically, because true justice is only done when we have all the answers. And after looking objectively at all the evidence in this case you can’t blame skeptics for trying to resolve a contradictory narrative on their own (short of harassing witnesses). So says Examiner.com’s Jeffrey Phelps:
Perhaps the most startling and glaring aspect of these circumstances…has to do with the fact that, despite multiple eye-witnesses and official police audio, independent investigative journalists have been the ones that have had to piece together what happened at the scenes of each of these shootings….
Before we delve into the accomplice theory it’s important to acknowledge that we’re working with limited information in a case where more will be forthcoming, according to The Denver Post:
…Holmes’ attorneys countered that ‘there is a great deal of information related to this case that was not presented at the preliminary hearing, and which has not yet been made public.
Therefore, the existence of unanswered questions and circumstantial evidence about the shooting do not inherently disprove the official story. But on the other hand, with much information being kept from the public, the fact that there is enough conflicting evidence to write a blog post of this size is a testament to the accomplice theory itself.
Tale of the Tape: What the Security Footage Reveals
It wasn’t officially known until Holmes’ preliminary hearing in January that Century 16 has no cameras in individual theaters or outside the building. However, according to Court Order C-19 from the hearing, 11 of Century 16’s 24 indoor cameras captured Holmes before the shooting occurred. Some of the footage was screened at the hearing, in which the following was revealed [sources amalgamated]:
The prosecution also showed surveillance video of Holmes entering the theater complex just past midnight. Holmes watched intently as one detective showed a surveillance video of him calmly entering the theater lobby, holding the door open for a couple behind him, and printing out tickets to the midnight showing of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ that he purchased electronically 12 days earlier. The chilling, soundless video shows Holmes redeeming his ticket at a kiosk, giving it to a ticket taker, then lingering near the concession stand for a few minutes before turning toward Theater 9, a different theater from the one listed on his ticket. The lone suspect…entered along with the crowd, investigators believe.
Then he walked out of the theater’s emergency door unnoticed, investigators said, propping it open. The suspect, later identified as Holmes, allegedly returned through the same door minutes later, clad in black ballistic gear, and opened fire.
Witnessing the Attack in Theater 9
Studies have shown that witnesses to a crime aren’t always reliable because of distortions in human perception caused by various biases and stressors. It’s the “fog of war”—what one person thinks they saw is not always what was actually seen. Moreover, even the most compelling eyewitness testimony can’t always prove that something did or didn’t happen.
But in the absence of more objective, undeniable evidence, it can paint a compelling scenario.
From what can be ascertained from publicly available interviews, several witnesses in Theater 9 believe the shooter didn’t act alone. While the dark, smoky, frantic atmosphere in the theater may have prevented most moviegoers from making out much, it’s probable that there are more people who saw something similar to the following witnesses but were never interviewed by police or the media after the shooting.
Eyewitness #1: Corbin Dates
The eyewitness whose testimony currently serves as the bedrock of the accomplice theory is Corbin Dates, a 23-year-old man from Aurora who sat in the second row of Theater 9 on July 20th. In multiple interviews, Dates describes a man who took a phone call about 20 minutes before the movie started, proceeded to the emergency exit door, and appeared to direct someone his way.
In the following interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, Gates points out a distinct feature on this man—a goatee, which Holmes did not have at the time of his arrest:
Matthews: I think you told one of our producers that the person you saw going out of the theater…had a goatee.
Matthews: Go ahead.
Dates: That’s correct. Yeah, uh, prior to the movie even starting when I came and got my seat at the theater, a guy walked into the auditorium after me, sat into the very front first right row and got a phone call. Took his phone call towards the emergency exit—not the lobby—and had the door propped open by his foot. It seemed like he was making gestures—trying to find somebody or trying to have somebody come to his location to where he currently was. After that, I had already stepped out of the auditorium to bring my friend [eyewitness Jennifer Seeger] in, and when we came back, the movie was just starting, the lights were dimming, and that door seemed closed.
Matthews: And you testified all this in court?
Yet Dates’ account to The Washington Post says that the man with the goatee propped the door open with a stick, which contradicts Police Sgt. Gerald Jonsgaard’s statement that “a small piece of plastic commonly used to hold tablecloths onto a picnic table” was used, with more found on Holmes during his arrest. However, it’s unclear if this is a detail that Dates asserted, or if it was an assumption made by writer Eli Saslow, who has yet to respond to a request for clarification.
Either way, it’s unfortunate that Dates left his seat before seeing what became of the man with the goatee. Nevertheless, the question is: Did any other moviegoers also see this suspect and where he went?
Although the timing seems uncanny, it is possible that the man who Dates saw had no involvement in the shooting. His out-of-the-ordinary actions correlate with providing the gunman outside access to the theater shortly thereafter, but there could be another explanation for the man with the goatee’s actions: He was trying to sneak a friend in to see the highly anticipated new Batman movie.
Earlier in the same MSNBC interview, Dates seems sure that Holmes was not the man he saw at the emergency exit door before the movie started:
Matthews: Did he look dangerous to you? Did he remind you of what you saw in the theater?
Dates: Honestly, looking at his face straight-on, no, he looked like an average person that you would see probably at a mall, or anywhere. You would not put two and two together if you saw that person and if you were there that night. You would never know.
Shortly thereafter, Matthews again asks Dates if he thought Holmes was the man with the goatee:
Matthews: Is there any way you can connect the two? Could you identify him as that guy—the one who killed the 12 people and injured or wounded so many others, dozens of others?
Dates: I couldn’t have identified him because the person–the gunman–was dressed all in black … The only thing available to see was only his eyes [sic].
When Dates first saw the alleged gunman in this CNN interview he did with reporter Kyung Lah three days after the shooting, he still made no connection to the man he saw at the emergency exit door:
Dates: You finally take off the mask and you see who this person really is…it’s like a shock.
Lah: Can you reconcile this image with the man inside that theater?
Dates: I did not expect that at all. It’s shocking because the person who was covered in black—the individual that would come to my mind was somebody who was…probably very buff, somebody that probably works out. Somebody who probably has a history of knowing weapons inside and out.
Lah: James Holmes’ hair grabbed the immediate attention for most people, but Dates couldn’t get past the expression on his face.
In the multiple interviews Dates gave in the days after the shooting, his story was consistent—until its key revelation changed drastically one week later. In Madness at Midnight, an hour-long segment aired by CNN Presents on July 28th, 2012, Dates’ interview with Drew Griffin had a far-different implication:
Dates: I remember seeing a guy walk into the theater, and he sat in the very first row to the far right seat. And I didn’t think nothing of it—he just looked like a regular, average person.
Dates: Ever alone.
Griffin: Red hair?
Dates: Uh, it did look like he had red hair, uh yes.
At Holmes’ preliminary hearing several months later, police addressed Dates’ apparently revised testimony. According to Court Order C-19:
Sergeant Fyles testified that he interviewed victim-witness Corbin Dates. Mr. Dates told Sergeant Fyles that he was seated inside Theater Nine and noticed a male with red hair sticking out of a black beanie walk toward the emergency exit door in the front of Theater Nine while talking on a cell phone, and the man propped the door ajar with his foot. Sergeant Fyles stated that a picnic clip wrapped in aqua tape was found on the emergency exit door to Theater Nine and another matching clip was found on Defendant when he was searched. Additionally, Sergeant Fyles states that matching picnic clips were found in the center console of the white car, which Detective Appel stated was registered to Defendant, as well as in Defendant’s apartment near a roll of aqua tape.
It’s bizarre that in all but the CNN interview Dates gave following the shooting, he never mentioned the color of the man’s hair as a distinguishing feature (just his goatee). Nor did he ever state that he believed it was the same person as the shooter.
So what happened? Is there a non-conspiratorial reason why Dates’ current testimony is vastly different than what he initially told the media? Could his memory have been affected by the fog of war, despite witnessing something that seemed peculiar yet harmless at the time?
What’s also odd is that not one other witness has stated (publicly or in court) that they saw Holmes or the man with the goatee prop the door open and/or walk out the emergency exit. And from what Court Order C-19 tells us, the prosecution may rely solely on Dates’ inconsistent testimony in asserting that it was Holmes who propped open the emergency exit door, and not someone else. Because there are no cameras in the individual theaters, and without releasing the video footage to the public, it’s not 100% clear if Holmes ever exited the complex through a non-emergency exit door, relying on the man with the goatee to keep the emergency exit ajar.
Admittedly, Holmes’ mere presence inside Century 16—assuming it is indeed him—seems unnecessary if an accomplice had already propped open the door for him to enter from the outside. But there could be an explanation, such as Holmes wanting to scope out the scene before going through with an attack that he’d apparently planned for two months.
Eyewitnesses #2 and 3: Fassil Eyayou and Evan Morrison
Eyayou: We were just watching the movie. It was about 15 minutes into it, and as we were doing that, someone completely dressed in black started to walk in from the bottom emergency exit on the right. And we saw something getting thrown from the back of the theater, and then from his side. [Something] looked like a canister in it. It went off. Loud popping noises and tear gas, and then he started shooting.
Flener: So you said you saw something come from the back of the theater as well, and then the front as well?
Eyayou: They both were thrown. They popped one after the other, and after they did, he started shooting.
Flener [turning to Evan Morrison]: Tell me what else you saw.
Morrison: The same thing. I saw the first thing come from the middle. It appeared to be an unidentified object….
Flener: How do you make sense of what’s happened over the past four, four-and-a-half hours here?
Eyayou: We don’t know, we have ideas. From what we saw, he wasn’t alone—he had someone with him because the second can of tear gas didn’t come from his side… We can only assume that someone got him in, because whatever he was wearing seemed thick, so I’d think he’d stand out in a crowd.
Eyayou contradicts himself regarding which gas canister was thrown first, but the point here is that both he and Morrison recognized that someone other than the gunman threw a tear-gas canister in Theater 9.
So, again, how many other witnesses in the theater saw the same thing?
Eyewitness #3: Devon Suits
There doesn’t appear to be public video testimony from Devon Suits, an 18-year-old who was in the theater with four of his friends that night. But his account given to Denver Post sports columnist Woody Paige is consistent with what Eyayou and Morrison believe they saw [emphasis added]:
“That was the tear gas (canisters.) My eyes began burning. There was smoke, and the flashes and bullets flying, screaming, and it was surreal. Everybody was freaking out. I didn’t even know that the movie kept playing. I thought there were two gunmen—the one throwing the gas and the other shooting. I lost it….”
Why hadn’t anybody rushed the shooter? “I was terrified. We didn’t know how many (gunmen) there were. We didn’t have time to think. We reacted. I just wanted to get away with my friends and not die.”
Eyewitness #4: Century 16 Employee
Another Theater 9 witness is a Century 16 employee who recalls what she saw that night from the top-back of the theater. The raw quality of her testimony inside Gateway High School makes it seem less official than the previous witnesses, but what she says shouldn’t be ignored because it supports the theory that the shooter got help from the inside.
In the beginning of the clip, she and her friend who was with her also believe that the attack involved multiple people:
…next to the exit sign there’s two doors that lead outside directly. So, what I heard from him (another eyewitness)—he was sitting in the third row—they came from the exit doors from the outside, so somebody with tickets probably let them in….
Toward the end of the clip, she reiterates her perception that multiple attackers were involved, though it’s unclear if she’s suggesting a total of three or five:
They do have a guy in custody according to the news. And I think there’s at least three people ’cause I saw a silhouette of a guy—and all I could see was the light from the exit lights. I saw a silhouette of a guy, and he was in all black… And there’s two people on each side of him, but I think there was only one gun going off at the time. But they definitely threw fuckin’ smoke bomb, and they threw one other thing… And either they were hiding behind the screen, which there is…. [clip ends]
When the clip ends, the theater employee starts to say that there is space to hide behind the movie screen in the theater, which an officer confirmed here on the police radio scanner following the attack:
Lincoln 25: Everybody inside, realize that behind the screens, those are open venues, so you need to check behind those screens also.
Eyewitness #5: “They Set Gas Bombs”
CNN does not disclose the name of this female witness, but in the following short statement she mentions multiple attackers three times [emphasis added]:
As they were leaving, he witnessed a baby—an infant—get shot. But yeah, they set gas bombs, um, as they were leaving, and just gunshots all over the place.
A Witness Who Saw Holmes with Another Man Before the Shooting
Abigail Quezada, who lives across the street from Holmes’ apartment, told Fox News’ Grif Jenkins what she saw around 7 p.m. on Thursday, July 19th, roughly five hours before the shooting:
Quezada: Two persons—uh, James, what is the name?
Jenkins: James Holmes?
Quezada: Yeah, [and] another guy. They started running down 17th [Avenue] to his apartment.
While Quezada’s testimony lacks depth and articulation, it does lend credence to the possibility that Holmes may have been working with someone to plan and possibly execute the shooting.
So who is this person of interest?
A Coordinated Attack in Theater 8
Despite Theater 9 witness testimony supporting the presence of at least one accomplice, the more overlooked testimony comes from attendees in Theater 8 who reveal something of a smoking gun for the accomplice theory. Although no witnesses have publicly stated that they actually saw someone set off a gas canister, they did see a flash of light moments before bullets began penetrating the wall adjoining Theater 9.
In addition to the witnesses who describe this attack, what an officer heard on the police scanner that night sums up findings from witness interviews by indicating the perceived presence of an assailant in Theater 8:
Uh, yeah, I don’t know if this information’s already been put out, but I’m talking to people making a statement. It sounds like we have possibly two shooters: One that was in Theater 8, seated, another one that came in from the outside into Theater 9. Sounded like it was a coordinated attack.
The word to note from this transmission is “seated,” which at least one witness either directly reported, or the reporting officer inferred from the account(s). The mere mention of this word reduces the likelihood of a timed tear-gas detonation that was programmed to go off in advance.
Eyewitness #1: Steve Ostergaard
Teacher Steve Ostergaard was sitting on the right side of Theater 8 with 10 of his students that night:
About 20 minutes into the movie, there was a scene where they were in a bar and there was gunfire about to start erupting. At that point, to the right of us—right by the stairwell—all 12 of us heard hissing and then started seeing smoke and we saw a boom and a flash. At that point we heard what we thought were firecrackers.
Was part of the stairwell blown off like I thought I saw? Because I saw an explosion. So what really happened? Because it was dark in there.
Eyewitness #2: Rachel Fedeli
Rachel Fedeili was also in Theater 8. Here’s her account:
We had heard about two pops, and then there was a big cloud of smoke. And then there was another pop and more smoke….
Later in the same clip, she mentions an important point that supports the idea that the gas canister(s) thrown in Theater 8 was indeed separate from the gas canister(s) thrown in Theater 9:
We had no idea at all that there was anything happening in Theater 9—we thought it was just in our theater. No one knew that there was something else happening in the theater next to us.
Eyewitness #3: Alex Milano
Theater 8 witness Alex Milano told 9NEWS’ Brandon Rittiman:
We were watching a scene in the movie—it was a shootout scene—there were guns firing. And then loud bangs came from the right of the theater. Smoke took over the entire theater. It was really thick, and no one could really see anything.
Eyewitness #4: Obed Sanchez
It’s unclear where Obed Sanchez was sitting in Theater 8, but he also describes an explosion that took place inside his theater:
There were explosions behind me, and there was dust, but I thought it was just a normal practical joke—fireworks or something.
Eyewitness #5: Quentin Caldwell
Testimony from Theater 8 moviegoer Quentin Caldwell reiterates what Theater 9 witness Devon Suits perceived, suggesting that there may have been more than one shooter:
You know, right before we tried to exit the theater, and then all of the sudden somebody ran in and said, ‘Don’t go in the lobby—he’s in the lobby.’ And somebody else tried to go outside, and they shut the doors. I don’t know why, but they said, ‘He’s outside.’ So we were scared—we didn’t know if there was more than one.
Police Scanner Audio
Supporting the accomplice theory is telling audio from the police radio scanner in the early morning hours of July 20th. Before going through its revelations, a few things should be known.
First, Aurora police indicated that after ads and trailers, the 12:05 a.m. screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Theater 9 actually began at 12:20 a.m., with the shooting occurring approximately 18 minutes into the movie, at 12:38 a.m.
Secondly, the map below will help put the radio transmissions in context. Holmes was detained in the back of the theater, which the police refer to as the east/Sable Boulevard side. Alameda Avenue runs east to west, just north of the theater.
4:18 mark of the police-scanner audio
11: We’ve got the back covered and the south side covered.
Lincoln 25: I’m being told that he’s in Theater 9.
16 Adam: I need a marked car behind the theaters, Sable side. Got a suspect in a gas mask.
Is that the dude in the white car you’re by?
Officer 1: 311: Hold the air one second. Cars where that white car in the rear of the lot—is that a suspect?
Officer 2: Yes, we’ve got rifles, gas masks. He’s detained right now. I’ve got an open door going into the theater.
Officer 1: OK, hold that position. Hold your suspect.
Based on what one officer says, it sounds like Holmes may have been in his car when police found him. But according to recent courtroom testimony Officer Jason Oviatt says he found Holmes standing outside the driver-side door in a gas mask and full tactical gear, causing him to initially mistake Holmes for a fellow officer. Although the “in the car” question remains unreconciled, the police audio indicates that Holmes was apprehended about two minutes after Officer 1 radioed that they had secured the back of the theater.
But this raises another question: If police had the back side of the theater covered before they discovered Homes, did they not initially see him because he was still inside the theater? Or was he somewhat concealed in the confines of his car? The third possibility would be that he was already at his car, but mistaken as another cop by the first officers on the scene.
Skeptics who believe that Holmes was inside his car when police found him, possibly drugged up as a patsy, cite the broken passenger-side windows on his car, as well as a spine board beneath the car for medical transport.
Further, in the above image there is the package that appears on the passenger seat. In the context of a planned shooting, this appears out of place until the subsequent discovery that a notebook detailing the attack was allegedly put in the mail to Holmes’ psychiatrist hours before the shooting.
Additional analysis of the police scanner audio follows.
Mention of Other Possible Suspects
Officer: 321: One of the shooters may be wearing a white-and-blue plaid shirt.
Dispatcher: Copy. Outstanding shooter possibly wearing a white-and-blue plaid shirt.
Suspect’s saying he’s the only one, but I’m getting conflicting suspect descriptions from the witnesses out here.
Cruiser 49: I’m already identifying parties who saw the entire thing as it unfolded. So, cars, continue to stop people and ask questions as to what they saw.
Tac 16—sorry—Tac 21, Denver Tac 21: One of the construction workers said somebody just came booking out of the parking lot. Male, red backpack was all they saw. Was headed towards Alameda.
Officer: Victor 1: We have an RP for a male dressed in black with a black backpack going to the northeast.
Dispatcher: Copy, all units on Blue Southwest. Denver Tac 21 stating a male with a red backpack and another one, possibly in black clothing, headed towards Alameda.
K, suspect is gonna be a male, unknown race, black camo-type outfit, believed to be wearing a vest, gas mask, and multiple long guns.
Updated version: Suspect in all black. Black tactical vest. Black tactical helmet. [unintelligible] gas masks. Full tactical gear with at least one handgun, possible shotgun, and possible one other long gun.
Metro 10 to people with those key witnesses that were inside the theater: We need to start quickly as possible getting suspect descriptions because we initially got some conflicting information. I wanna make sure we’re not looking for anybody else.
321: I had another witness say ‘green camouflage pants.’
Uh, yeah, I don’t know if this information’s already been put out, but I’m talking to people making a statement. It sounds like we have possibly two shooters: One that was in Theater 8, seated, another one that came in from the outside into Theater 9. Sounded like it was a coordinated attack.
Officer: [unintelligible officer ID]: I just wasn’t sure if we have the information out that there’s possibly two shooters?
Dispatcher: Negative—that is new. Newsbreak: Every unit on Blue Southeast: Possible second shooter still at large.
Thus multiple witnesses tell police of at least two suspects other than the gunman. There could be more than two, depending on permutations of clothing:
- One wearing a white-and-blue plaid shirt
- One in green camouflage pants
- A male with a red backpack running toward Alameda Avenue
- A male dressed in black with a black backpack heading to the northeast of the theater (Alameda Avenue and Sable Boulevard)
The fact that the gunman’s description is mentioned twice—more than 20 minutes after Holmes was detained—has made some skeptics argue that there was a second gunman on the loose. This could be the case, but given the unique outfit worn by Holmes, it may be more likely that not all responding officers realized that the prime suspect was already detained as they took eyewitness accounts.
Police Continue Searching in Nearby Aurora Mall
Officer: We have a siren and a red light outside here.
Dispatcher: Copy. Let me double-check with my primaries… It looks like we did have one alarm an hour ago at Macy’s. But since you went inside, it has been cleared out.
Arapahoe County: I guess they wanna bring out that floor cleaner/suspect out that JC Penney door. You ready for that?
An alarm at Macy’s in the nearby Town Center mall could have therefore been triggered by a fleeing suspect, with the mall’s janitor detained by police for questioning. The probability that one or more suspects were fleeing the scene was corroborated in broadcast news.
The Media Reported a Suspect on the Loose
Some of the reports from that morning were consistent with what can be heard on the police scanner. ABC News initially reported this as it happened:
One suspect has been taken into custody, [Aurora police] believes that there’s one more on the loose.
9NEWS’ Brandon Rittiman reported this before interviewing Theater 8 witness Alex Milan:
We are still waiting for police to confirm any numbers or details of exactly how many folks were shot or whether someone is still on the loose. I can tell you there’s a helicopter out here actively searching for somebody.
9NEWS’ Kevin Torres reported this after speaking to several witnesses:
…but now police are saying that it appears that only one person was involved in this. But clearly, in the middle of the night talking with these witnesses, everybody thought that there was more than one person involved.
Fuzzy Math: The Physical Evidence That Doesn’t Add Up
In the days after the shooting, investigators poured over Holmes’ records to document his arsenal of weapons and body armor he allegedly used in the shooting.
But when comparing Holmes’ purchases to what was reportedly found at the scene, some salient mismatches arise with the gas masks, gas canisters, and bulletproof vest. These inconsistencies not only raise questions about where Holmes obtained the equipment, but with the police investigation itself.
During the preliminary hearing in January, Denver Post crime reporter John Ingold listed Holmes’ purchases.
May 10: Two tear gas canisters, bought online.
• • •
Separately on July 2: Body armor for the neck, torso and groin, bought online.
Additionally, Court Order C-19 states:
Bureau of Arms, Tobacco, and Firearms (“ATF”) Agent Steven Beggs testified that…between May and July 2012…Defendant purchased numerous rounds of ammunition, two tear gas canisters, a ballistic helmet, torso neck protection, bullet proof arm protection, groin protection, and ballistic pants or chaps.
The Two Gas Canisters
Records show that Holmes bought two gas canisters online, and police recovered two gas canisters from the crime scene—one inside Theater 9 and one near Holmes’ vehicle. According to Court Order C-19:
Sergeant Fyles also stated that near Defendant’s car, police found a black and silver canister of tear gas that matched the canister found inside Theater Nine and matched the kind of tear gas that ATF Agent Beggs stated that Defendant purchased.
But recall multiple witnesses in Theater 8 attesting to a gas-canister “explosion” in their own theater. The clear presence of a distinct third gas canister is perhaps the most convincing evidence that Holmes had an accomplice, but police are yet to acknowledge its existence or the corresponding testimony of said witnesses.
The Bulletproof Vest
Over time, a forensic oddity surfaced regarding the type of tactical vest that Holmes was wearing when apprehended. Official testimony from witnesses and police indicates that he was wearing one that was bulletproof:
Law enforcement sources say gunman James Holmes, 24, was dressed for battle in a bullet-resistant vest and gas mask Friday (July 20) morning…
At 7 p.m. [Friday, July 20th], Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates told reporters that Holmes purchased 6,000 rounds of ammunition over the internet.
He was also decked out in all black with a kevlar helmet, a gas mask, a tactical bullet-resistant vest, bullet-proof leggings, a neck and groin protector and special tactical gloves.
The Denver Post
[Monday, January 7th]’s testimony reiterated that Holmes was outfitted as if for a battle when police put him in handcuffs the morning of July 20. He wore a helmet and gas mask, a bullet-resistant vest, a throat protector, a groin protector and armored leggings. He had at least one knife on him, Aurora officer Jason Oviatt testified.
Court Order C-19
Officer Oviatt stated he ordered the suspect into the prone position on the ground, and he secured the individual, handcuffing him and searching him. Officer Oviatt observed that the suspect was wearing soft body armor on his chest and legs, a bulky coat with armor, a helmet and gas mask, and track pants with soft body armor leggings or chaps.
On July 2, Holmes placed a $306 order with the site for a combat vest, magazine holders and a knife, paying extra for expedited two-day shipping to his Aurora apartment.
The Four Gas Masks
Not even mentioned in Holmes’ list of purchases are the two gas masks in his possession. Then there is the issue of the third gas mask that recovered toward the opposite end of the parking lot where he was arrested. This gas mask was not widely reported in the mainstream media, but was referenced in the above diagram from The Washington Post and in other crime-scene photos.
There’s more. On September 1st, 2012, Denver Post court reporter Jessica Fender tweeted that four gas masks were found, but later deleted the tweet after the implication that police may have compromised part of the crime scene.
At Holmes’ preliminary hearing in January, word of the four gas masks re-emerged when Aurora police detective Sgt. Matthew Fyles took the stand. According to the article by Fender and Ingold:
The court also heard Wednesday about items found at the shooting scene. Fyles testified that police found four gas masks, although only two belonged to Holmes.
Almost as remarkable as the official discovery of gas masks not belonging to Holmes was Fender and Ingold’s noticeable silence and decision not to follow up on the revelation—just as other members of the mainstream media failed to do.
Could the extra gas masks have been left behind by police, who needed them to enter Theater 9? If that’s the case, how can the gas mask that was found a good distance away from Holmes’ car be considered evidence? Its mere presence suggests that before fleeing the scene, an accomplice likely tossed his or her gas mask in an effort not to attract attention during the escape.
In the context of the lone-gunman story, there’s no obvious answer as to why two extra gas masks were part of the crime scene. Assuming that these masks did not belong to police, the most logical explanation is that there was at least one other person involved in the attack.
The Initial Police Investigation: Cementing the Lone-Gunman Narrative
Shortly after 11 a.m. on July 20th, Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates spoke during the main press conference to the media. Despite reports of one or more possible accomplices and incriminating evidence left behind at the scene just hours earlier, it’s surprising how confident he is in asserting that Holmes acted alone.
Perhaps the show of assurance was done to best represent the valiant efforts of first responders without injecting more drama into an already dramatic situation. Nevertheless in the press conference each time Oates is asked about the possibility of accomplices, he looks uncomfortable and perturbed, then all but avoids the questions, including a repeated one about the presence of security cameras:
Oates: We are not looking for any other suspects. We are confident that he acted alone. However, we will do a thorough investigation to be absolutely sure that that is the case. But at this time, we are confident that he acted alone.
Reporter 1: We had a witness [presumably Corbin Dates] tell us that he saw a suspicious person in the front aisle that was lingering near the exit where the shooter came in. And I’m wondering if you’ve looked into that, because you said you believe he acted alone. So is that something you think played a part in allowing him to get in?
Oates [collecting his thoughts]: We have information as to what occurred in the theater based on the roughly 200 interviews that we have made. And we have ballistic evidence inside that suggests how the shooting went down. But we have so much investigation to do, and that’s the kind of evidence for a prosecution—not for a discussion at this time.
Reporter 2: Are there cameras in those theaters?
Reporter 3: That door—you couldn’t access that door from the outside—it has to be opened from the inside.
Oates [choosing his next words]: We’re not prepared to discuss any theories about how that he got in there with the weapons, but we will tell you that his car was parked right outside the back door.
Reporter 2: Are there cameras in those theaters?
[Oates did not respond to above question from Reporter 2 and instead chose to address a question that another reporter simultaneously posed.]
Two days after the shooting, Oates admitted to Bob Schieffer on CBS’ Face the Nation that he was hardly up-to-date with evidence in the case, but nevertheless showed an early commitment to the lone-gunman story:
Schieffer: As far as you know at this time, this involves only one person?
Oates: All the evidence we have—every single indicator—is that this is all Mr. Holmes’ activity, and he that wasn’t particularly aided by anyone else.
Oates: We’re building a case to show that this was a deliberative process by a very intelligent man who wanted to do this. So it will take quite a bit of time. There are so many loose ends, and we’ve been so busy dealing with the families and the aftermath of this, and the dangers of the apartment, that I haven’t even been briefed by my investigators on probably 90% of what they know. That kind of work will take place [and] in the next couple of days I’ll be more up to speed.
Oates’ admission that he had been briefed on roughly 10% of the case could explain why he believed there were no accomplices. But conversely, it makes one wonder how he could be so confident that Holmes acted alone. Even so, Oates knew that police had already interviewed about 200 witnesses, and witness testimony alone should have been enough to shake his confidence that Holmes was the sole suspect.
But Oates’ belief was unwavering. In a same-day interview with Fox News’ Jon Scott, Oates did indicate some open-mindedness when asked about a possible second suspect, and also addressed a person of interest in the investigation:
Scott: There was word overnight—some confusion overnight—that there might be a second person involved, a second suspect. Can you clear that up for us?
Oates [collecting his thoughts]: Sure, and I’d like to correct something. Rather than insist that he worked and acted alone, we have no information that he acted with anyone else at this time.
Now there was a report overnight about a person who was an acquaintance of Mr. Holmes. We’ve since contacted that person. We’re trying to contact every person who was an acquaintance of Mr. Holmes to find out as much about Holmes as we can… But we did speak to that person last night, and it’s part of a massive investigation.
So far, the closest thing to an official second suspect was the person of interest, but his name was soon cleared.
Just hours after a mass shooting, what kind of “massive investigation” doesn’t take all of the evidence into account—especially one in which multiple threads suggest the presence of one or more accomplices? Further, once Oates did get up to speed on all the evidence, how could the narrative have remained unchanged?
Put another way—Two extra gas masks, a tear-gas canister in Theater 8, and at least three different suspect descriptions made Oates feel confident that only one person was involved, and it was Holmes.
If Holmes Was on Something, We’ll Never Know
Is there anything else that Aurora police didn’t appear to follow through on immediately after the shooting? Look no further than their decision not to drug-test their prime suspect, who looked and behaved like someone on drugs upon his arrest [emphasis added]:
Holmes “was very relaxed” when police found him outside the Century 16 theater that night, his hands on top of his car beside a handgun, said Officer Jason Oviatt: “It was like there weren’t normal emotional responses.”
The Denver Post
Holmes was “just standing there,” Oviatt testified. “Not doing anything. Not in any hurry. Not excited.” Oviatt’s reports from that day note Holmes “simply stared off into the distance” and “seemed to be out of it and disoriented.”
On the stand, Oviatt said Holmes…showed no normal emotional responses but understood directions and cooperated. Oviatt testified he saw no signs of drug use, despite noting in reports that Holmes’ pupils were “huge.”
[Officer Aaron] Blue said once they got Holmes into the back of a police car, he became fidgety, was sweating profusely and reeked of body odor.
The Denver Channel
Sources told CALL7 Investigator John Ferrugia that when Holmes…was brought in…he sat wide-eyed, with his eyebrows twitching as detectives watched him…
Sources also said detectives put bags over his hands to preserve any gunshot residue. Sources told CALL7 that Holmes began playing with the bags pretending they were two puppets.
It was just hours after a deadly Colorado theater shooting, and James Holmes was not acting like a man accused of methodically planning the attack and booby trapping his apartment… As police detective Craig Appel interviewed the suspect they’d picked up outside the theater…the former neuroscience graduate student tried to jam a staple into an electrical outlet. He played with a cup on the table. Appel noted that his eyes were dilated….
Asked by a defense attorney whether he had ordered a blood test for Holmes, Appel said he had not.
“There were no indications that he was under the influence of anything,” he said.
Holmes told police that he took 100mg of Vicodin about two-and-a-half hours before the shooting. This is despite the fact that Vicodin is known to constrict pupils rather than dilate them, and the effects from that low of a dose are unlikely to sustain themselves three days later, when Holmes appeared completely out of it at his first court hearing.
So was Holmes on something else? Thanks to investigators’ failure to pursue this avenue the public may never know for sure, even if the names of his four prescriptions found at his apartment are ever released.
Can Holmes’ strange behavior simply be attributed to mentally illness? It’s not unreasonable, considering that his earlier self-diagnosis of dysphoric mania is consistent with symptoms he exhibited in the courtroom.
But the larger point here is that police didn’t attempt to resolve apparent contradictory observations in their prime suspect. Even though they didn’t think he was under the influence of common drugs or alcohol, it would have only been diligent—and perhaps compliant with official forensic protocol—to prove their assessment with more objective evidence.
The Accomplice Theory: Final Questions
- Who was running with James Holmes near his apartment just hours before the shooting?
- Are there any other witnesses who saw Holmes or the man with the goatee at the emergency exit door of Theater 9? And why did Corbin Dates change his story about who he saw?
- How do police account for the two gas masks they recovered that don’t belong to Holmes?
- Where did Holmes get the bulletproof vest that he wore during the shooting?
- Who set off the gas canister in Theater 8, and why have police not addressed it?
- Who threw the alleged second gas canister in Theater 9?
- What became of at least two possible suspects reported on the police scanner?
- Why did Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates insist so early on that Holmes acted alone, despite evidence suggesting otherwise?
- Why didn’t Aurora police drug-test their prime suspect, who behaved strangely from the time of his arrest to his first court hearing three days later?
- Why have most of the mass media not asked these same questions?
A Truth We May Never Know
Given the evidence supporting the presence of at least one accomplice in the Aurora shooting, it was a little surprising that Holmes’ defense team did not call any witnesses to the stand at the preliminary hearing in January—witnesses who could blow up the entire lone-gunman story.
This indicates two things that could be true. One, any evidence of an accomplice doesn’t change the fact that Holmes participated in the attack. And two, the FBI and/or Aurora police may not want the defense to reveal this kind of information. We can only speculate why.
When Holmes faces trial in March, the expectation is that he’ll plead not guilty by reason of insanity. His defense team does plan on calling two witnesses to the stand, but ones who weren’t involved in the shooting. The expectation is that they’ll testify to Holmes’ supposedly mental state.
“This is not a whodunit case,” says attorney Dan Recht. “The issue in this case is going to be ultimately whether Holmes is sane or not sane.”
That’s quite a shame, because even in the event Holmes is guilty, if all of the evidence is not properly gathered and vetted before a court of his peers then justice has not been served.
Wherever the truth lies, the word “accomplice” will likely not be uttered in the courtroom.
But the notion did surface at the preliminary hearing. Officer Justin Grizzle testified that after Holmes was arrested he was asked if anyone had helped him with the attack. Holmes responded nonverbally with an enigmatic half-answer that can be met with an eerie sense of conspiratorial wonder:
“He just looked at me and smiled. It was a smirk.”
© Copyright 2013 Vera Blake / perskeptical.blogspot.com and James F. Tracy / memoryholeblog.com.