Webinar Notes: Managing Mass Casualty Aurora Theater Shooting

Webinar Focus

  • Help agencies prepare for an eventuality of a mass casualty shooting
  • 5th webinar of the series on the topic of mass shootings
  • Chronology of events that occurred during and after the Aurora, Colorado theater shooting


Resource Speakers (01:29)

  • Lieutenant Stephen Redfearn


    • Served in Aurora PD since 1999, and 0versees the major investigation section.
    • Supervises more than 70 detectives assigned to the major crimes homicide unit, economic crimes unit, crimes against children, internet crimes against children, sex crimes, victim services unit, and special victims unit.
    • Commanding officer for the trauma response team.
    • A first responder to the Century 16 Theater shooting where he took an active role overseeing the triage and transport of the victims.


The Justice Clearinghouse (02:23)

  • Peer-to-peer educational program for law enforcement and justice professionals
  • Year-round virtual conference on justice-related topics
  • Events are free-to-attend, with subscribers having 24/7 access to recorded webinars and eligible for certifications which may be used for continuing education credits.
  • Interactive webinars with quick polls, Q&A, and feedback survey


7/20 Century 16 Theater Shooting Overview (02:57)

  • Aurora, Colorado
  • Thursday night, July 19 to Friday early morning of July 20, 2012
  • Objectives:


    • Share lessons learned
    • Share stories and experienced
    • The largest mass shooting incident in the US at the time
  • Critical Incident Warning


    • If you have been involved in a critical incident, some sights and sounds in this presentation may invoke difficult memories.
  • Number of sworn personnel on duty at the time of shooting


    • By Assignment


      • Patrol – 68
      • Summer TF – 15
      • DART – 13
      • Narcotics – 9
      • SWAT – 7 (17)
      • GIU – 7
      • Traffic – 2
      • EMATT – 1
      • K9 – 3
      • Desk – 1
      • Total – 126
    • By Rank


      • Lieutenant – 4
      • Sergeant – 16
      • Patrol Officer – 105
      • Agent – 1
      • Total – 126
    • At the time perpetrator started shooting, there were 126 personnel on duty. If he waited a little bit longer, the number would’ve halved.
    • Summer Task Force


      • The team Lt. Redfearn was responsible for
      • First year of existence
      • Anti-crime summer
      • Spots on patrol were filled by school resource officers who have more active shooting training than a majority of the patrol officers.
    • The number of supervisory roles in the scene created an interesting dynamic.
  • Mass Shootings in the US Chronology


    • April 1999 – Littleton, CO… Columbine High School, 12 dead, 21 injured


      • Set off the mass shooting epidemic
    • July 1999 – Atlanta, GA… Stock broker kills 12 including his wife and two children
    • September 1999 – Ft. Worth, TX… six killed at a prayer service
    • December 1999 – Tampa, FL… five dead, three wounded in workplace/car jacking
    • March 2000 – Irving, TX… five dead, one injured at a car wash
    • December 2000 – Wakefield, MA… seven dead in workplace shooting
    • September 2001 – Sacramento, CA… five killed, two wounded in workplace shooting
    • October 2002 – Washington, D.C. area… D.C. snipers, 10 dead
    • July 2003 – Meridian, MS… five dead, nine wounded in workplace shooting
    • August 2003 – Chicago, IL… gunman kills six former workmates
    • July 2004 – Kansas City, KS… five dead, 2 wounded at a meat processing plant
    • November 2004 – Birchwood, WI… hunter kills six other hunters, wounds two after an argument
    • March 2005 – Red Lake, MN… nine deceased, seven wounded in home/school shooting
    • March 2005 – Brookfield, WI… seven killed at a church service
    • January 2006 – Goleta, CA… seven dead to include a neighbor of the shooter and six fellow employees
    • October 2006 – Nickel Mines, PA… five schoolgirls killed, six wounded
    • February 2007 – Salt Lake City, UT… Trolley Square shooting, five dead, four wounded
    • April 2007 – Virginia Tech University… 32 dead, 15 wounded
    • December 2007 – Omaha, NE… nine killed, five injured in a shopping center shooting
    • December 2007 – Carnation, WA… woman and boyfriend kill six members of her family
    • February 2008 – Kirkwood, MO… five killed, two injured at City Council meeting
    • February 2008 – Chicago, IL… five dead, one injured in a suburban clothing store
    • February 2008 – DeKalb, IL… five dead, 16 wounded in a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University
    • June 2008 – Henderson, CT… five dead, 1 wounded at a workplace
    • September 2008 – Alger, WA… six dead, two wounded by a recently released mentally ill man
    • December 2008 – Covina, CA… nine dead at family Christmas party
    • March 2009 – Carthage, NC… eight killed, four wounded in private nursing home
    • March 2009 – Santa Clara, CA… six shot in an apartment building
    • April 2009 – Birmingham, NY… 13 killed at a civic center
    • July 2009 – Houston, TX… six dead at Texas Southern University
    • November 2009 – Fort Hood, TX… 13 dead, 42 wounded on military base
    • August 2010 – Manchester, CT… business eight killed, two injured
    • January 2011 – Tucson, AZ… grocery store/political meeting, six dead, 12 wounded
    • October 2011 – Seal Beach, CA… hair salon, eight killed, one injured
    • April 2012 – Oakland, CA… Oikos University, seven dead, three wounded
    • July 2012 – Aurora, CO… Century 16 Theater, 12 dead, 57 wounded, 13 other injuries
    • August 2012 – Oak Creek, WI… Sikh Temple, six dead, three wounded
    • September 2012 – Minneapolis, MN… business office, six killed
    • December 2012 – Newtown, CT… Sandy Hook Elementary School, 26 dead, 2 wounded
  • Prior trainings taken by their department regarding active shooter


    • APD Training Academy


      • Basic and Lateral
      • Active Shooter Training


        • 12 hours of Active Shooter Training
        • 4 hours of classroom
        •  8 hours of practical exercises using Simunition
      • All recruits engage in Ti simulator training that includes active shooter scenarios.
    • Recent Annual Active Shooter In-Service Training


      • 2006 – 2 hours lecture
      • 2007 – 5 hours lecture and practical exercise
      • 2009 – 1 hour lecture
      • 2011 – 1 ½ hours Active Shooter and Ambush practical exercises and 5 ½ hours range including Active Shooter Response


        • Most beneficial
        • Conducted using Simunition
        • Very realistic training
      • 2012 – 1 hour Ti Active Shooter Training


The Mass Shooter (07:15)

  • Profile


    • James Eagen Holmes
    • White Male
    • 24 years of age
    • 5 feet-11 inches
    • 150 lbs
    • Never married
    • Unemployed
    • Recent graduate student at the University of Colorado
    • Studied Neuroscience
    • Lived alone at 1690 North Paris Street #10, a few blocks from the CU-Aurora campus where he attended school
  • Weapons Purchases


    • All weapons, magazines, and ammunition were legally purchased by Holmes.
    • Purchased with a USAA Mastercard
    • Weapons


      • May 22: Glock .40 caliber handgun from local Gander Mountain
      • May 28: Remington 12 gauge shotgun from a local Bass Pro Shop
      • June 7: AR-15 from a local Thornton Gander Mountain
      • July 12: Glock .40 caliber handgun from a local Bass Pro Shop
    • Ammunition and gear


      • .223 rounds – 3,370
      • 12-gauge shot and 12-gauge slugs – 325
      • .40 caliber rounds – 2,590
      • Weapon accessories


        • Laser sight
        • Gas mask
        • Hearing protection
      • Body Armor


        • Ballistic pants
        • Ballistic arm, neck/torso, and groin protection
        • Helmet
      • Others


        • Misc model rocketry supplies
        • Petris dish
        • Potassium Permanganate
        • Magnesium ribbon
        • Electrodes
        • Glycerin
        • Ammonium Chloride
        • Cord
        • Mortar and Pestle


The Shooting (09:42)

  • Century 16 Theatre


    • 14300 East Alameda Avenue
    • Opened in 1998
    • Closest to the police headquarters compared to other theaters.
    • Estimated 350-375 patrons in auditorium 9 on July 20
    • Rounds penetrated the wall into theatre 8
    • Victims in theatre 8, led them to believe there were multiple shooters
  • Vicinity


    • Suspect scouted the area
    • Theatre 9 allows him to park at the back to retrieve his ballistic protection and weapons
    • Dillard’s parking lot utilized after incident
  • Transport


    • Two Level 2 Trauma Centers nearby
    • Level 1 Children’s Hospital nearby


Timeline (13:34)

  • Events


    • 00:00:00 – The Dark Knight Rises Premier began
    • 00:09:19 – Noise complaint, loud music at 1910 Paris Street #10


      • Set loud music to go off minutes before attack
      • Door was not locked
    • 00:38:00


      • Suspect sits at the very front row of the theatre, near the fire exit
      • Fakes a phone call, steps out through the emergency exit
      • Used an improvised plastic door stop on the emergency exit
      • Gets him items from the car parked just outside the emergency exit
      • Walks back into the theatre used tear gas and throws that to the front of the theater


        • Teargas was supposedly for law enforcement only
        • Purchased online
      • People thought it was either a prank or live demo special effects for the movie until they smelled the gas
      • Suspect immediately shoots around to the ceiling, to the patrons


        • Shotgun
        • Rifle (kept jamming, frustrated suspect)
    • 00:47:38


      • Movie kept on playing
      • Fire alarm going off
      • People running out to the front
      • Gunshot wounds, blood on the victims
      • Police arrives
      • Took time to get into theater 9 because of the gas
      • 10 people dead in the theatre
      • 2 of those transported ended up dying
      • Suspect’s rifle jammed, fired on fleeing folks with Glock
      • Suspect heads back to his car
      • Immediately confronted by officers
      • Officers thought he was a SWAT officer as suspect was suited up
      • Officers took suspect into custody
      • Contrary to other shootings, at the end of the incident, the suspect was alive
      • Suspect was questioned for explosives around the vicinity of the theatre
      • Suspect advised of explosives in his house
      • Confirmed earlier noise complaint
    • 01:28:25


      • Lack of ambulances, some victims were transported using patrol cars
      • APD Unit 302 transports two more patients to Anschutz Inpatient Pavilion. His 3rd trip. Last of 28 APD patient transports
    • 01:30:52  – Officers arrive at suspect’s house in 1690 N Paris St for surveillance
  • 911 Tapes


    • 00:38:37


      • The first call of shots fired from inside Century Theater Auditorium 9
    • 00:38:51


      • Second call, from an employee
    • 00:41:04


      • Channels patched and all units dispatched to the theater
    • 00:47:38


      • Police arrives
      • 10, 12, 15 victims reported


Assists from Outside Agencies (28:54)

  • Agencies


    • 6 Local Sheriff’s Offices: Adams County, Arapahoe County and the Arapahoe County Coroner’s Office, Boulder County, Denver County, Douglas County, Jefferson County
    • 15 Local Police Departments: Arvada PD, Brighton PD, Broomfield PD, Castle Rock PD, Commerce City PD, Denver PD, Englewood PD, Golden PD, Greenwood Village PD, Littleton PD, Parker PD, Sheridan PD, Thornton PD, University of Colorado PD, Westminster PD San Diego PD (California)
    • 2 State/Regional: Colorado Information Analysis Center (CIAC), Colorado State Patrol
    • 5 Federal Agencies: ATF, FBI, USPS, NCIS, AFOSI
  • Over 300 responders in the first 2 hours


EOD Concerns (29:35)

  • Theater 9


    • Holmes already threw a device
    • Suspect was placed inside theater #9 prior to attack
    • After securing and life-saving exhausted, theater and victims  needed to be searched for possible IEDs before being turned over to Medical Examiner
  • Suspect Vehicle


    • Suspect already stated he had explosives at residence
    • Proximity to theater
    • Unable to gain access to vehicle both physically and visually
    • Suspects clothing and web gear scattered around vehicle
    • 2nd gas canister dropped outside
    • Handgun in passenger door pocket – likelihood of another suspect because of getting different witness descriptions


Suspect’s Apartment (31:14)

  • Shooting happened in one county, the apartment was in another county
  • Upon looking at the device, the apartment building was evacuated
  • From the 3rd floor window, officers found an intricate explosive device


    • Device used improvised chemicals and materials
    • Homemade napalm
    • Carpet soaked in gas
    • Improvised thermite
    • Remote pyrotechnics firing system
  • Ammo found in the apartment


    • 1,756 total rounds
    • .223 and .40 caliber rounds,
    • 12-gauge shotgun shells
    • And 1,000 various rounds
    • in explosive containers
  • These evidenced helped in getting a conviction for the suspect
  • All explosives hazards taken to range for disposal operation
  • All evidence sent to FBI Explosive Unit via Bu Aircraft


Crime Scene Investigation (38:57)

  • FBI, CSI
  • 400 + evidence gathered bought into trial
  • Fingerprinting and IDing of the victims done outside the theatre
  • Ammunition Count


    • 76 Total Rounds Fired inside!
    • Spent casings in theater: Six (6) 12-gauge shotgun shells, Sixty-five (65) .223 rounds, and Five (5) .40 caliber rounds
    • Unspent Rounds Found at the theater: 208 .223 cartridges and 16 .40 caliber cartridges.
    • Found on the defendant and near his vehicle were 13 .40 caliber magazines for a total of 240 rounds, 3 .223 magazines for a total of 93 rounds.
    • In all the defendant drove to the theater with more than 407 -.223 rounds; 277 – .40 rounds and 12 3” shotgun shells.
    • Fifteen 12-gauge shotgun projectile entries into wall separating auditoriums 8 and 9
    • Seven .223 projectile entries into wall separating auditoriums 8 and 9
  • Remington 12-gauge shotgun, 12-gauge shells, and .223 magazines found near emergency exit
  • Door Leading Outside This is how most of the critically injured victims were removed
  • AR-15 found near emergency exit
  • Unfired and found on suspect’s person outside theater:


    • Three hundred seventy-nine (379) .223 and .40 caliber rounds
    • Five (5) 12-gauge shotgun shells
  • Evidence and other facts


    • Photos recovered from the suspect of the gear and weapons
    • Suspect did not have extensive gun knowledge, he loaded his magazines to capacity, which jammed
    • Holmes tried to purchase AN in cold packs. He went to 4 to 5 stores but was unsuccessful in all
    • A symbol on the date of the event in his calendar


Trial (42:36)

  • 2015
  • Guilty 24 counts of Murder
  • 164 total counts
  • 12 life sentences
  • 3,318 years


Recovering (43:06)

  • First 72 hours


    • Identifying the victims
    • Victims and family members


      • 16:00 meeting Friday (Day 1) with families of “missing”
      • Recovery of bodies and death notifications
      • Assignment of Victim Advocates to each family
      • Assignment of PIOs to each family
      • Reliance on law enforcement partners for additional staff
    • POTUS Visit on July 23, 2012


      • POTUS visited University of Colorado Hospital
      • The “Invitation”
      • Security
      • Handling the deceased victims’ families
      • Pre- and post-visit demands of White House staff
    • Community Memorial on July 24, 2012
    • Memorial erected
  • Long-term considerations


    • Taking care of first responders who found themselves in roles they weren’t trained for


      • Employee reaction: Police officers and civilian personnel
      • Debriefing with Psych Services
      • Peer support
    • Healing Process


      • Officers’ Reunion with Victims they transported and saved
      • Life-long friendships with the victims


After Action Report (47:33)

  • What Went Well?


    • Combined efforts of Aurora public safety agencies—police, fire, communications—with timely assistance from neighboring jurisdictions, the FBI and ATF, achieved the best possible outcomes following the shooting.
    • “All victims with survivable serious wounds were rapidly triaged, transported to nearby hospitals, and recovered.”
    • 60 patients transported to hospitals, 


      • 27/28 by police cars
      • 20 in ambulances
      • 12 in private/other vehicles
      • one walked
    • This level of police transport was unplanned and unprecedented. 
    • If police cars had not been used for rapid transport of seriously wounded victims, more likely would have died.
  • Areas for Improvement


    • Complex situation with many challenges for first responders.
    • Over 80 recommendations for improvement in handling future incidents are made in the body of the AAR. 
    • Communications between the Police and Fire Departments on‐scene.
    • Unified or Single Overall Command


      • Police and fire officials did not establish a unified (joint) command 
      • A single overall commander was established late in the first hour of the incident
      • Having a unified command might have resolved police‐fire communications issues regarding getting ambulances in closer to victims.
      • Clarifying the level of risk to fire/EMS personnel
      • Firetrucks now have police radio
      • Ballistic protection
      • High-risk extraction training where police and fire enter together
  • Injured


    • Original count was 58


      • Number has grown as some went to hospitals on their own
      • Some did not report originally
      • Some did not know they had shrapnel wounds until the pieces fell out of their skin weeks after
    • Current count is 70 (non-fatal)


      • 58 gunshot wounds


        • Direct hits, fragments, pellets, and/or shrapnel
      • Five (5) chemical irritation
      • Four (4) ankle/leg
      • One (1) “bump on the head” resulting from fall
      • One (1) unknown minor injury to four-month-old resulting from fall
      • One (1) minor head injury from unknown cause
    • Hundreds of victims seeing post-event mental health counseling for trauma


Tribute to the Victims (50:34)


Final Takeaways (52:50)

  1. Train, train, train. The “active shooter” threat is real and will become even more common. Your personnel need to believe it can happen anywhere, at any time.


    • It has to be realistic
    • Use noise, smoke, fire alarms, etc.
  2. Establish a hot-zone entry and evacuation protocol with your Fire Department/Emergency Medical Services. Practice high-risk extraction protocol (HREP).


    • 2 or 3 police officers with a long gun to escort 2 or 3 firemen
    • Equip EMS folks with ballistic protection
  3. The Incident Commander must command and lead from outside the combat zone/crime scene, focusing on:


    • Deploying responding officers to locate and eliminate the threat(s)
    • Immediate evacuation of the wounded by any means necessary
  4. Take into “battle” the equipment you need.
  • Go bag containing a gas mask, extra ammunition, tourniquets and emergency bandages.
  • Train officers in tactical casualty combat care
  • Medical kits containing:


    • Gas mask
    • Additional Ammunition
    • Tourniquet
    • Bandages
    • Tape
    • Scissors
    • Gloves
    • Still some room for individual items
  1. Assume there is explosive and/or chemical threat at the crime scene and at other venues visited by/controlled by the shooter or in his/her vehicle.


    • Request emergency response to the scene from at least 2 bomb squad/hazmat tech teams, including one that is immediately mobile to respond to the next threat.
  2. Assign personnel to establish vehicle lanes of ingress and egress early on to avoid gridlock and for evacuation of the wounded and response by incoming emergency vehicles.
  3. Responders will experience sensory overload and will not hear important radio transmissions.


    • Repeat messages as needed.
    • Deploy runners to relay communications face to face.
    • Confirm the receipt of critical instructions.
  4. Request local mutual aid response as quickly as possible.


    • Dispatchers should be trained to do this without prompting from field command.
    • Better to have extra than not enough resources.
  5. Call out the FBI and ATF immediately.


    • Bury them in every bit of work they can handle it.
    • Conserve your agency’s resources for the other compelling demands it will face in the aftermath.
  6. If your suspect lives, be thinking about criminal discovery issues immediately.


    • Resolve any evidence or records issues and work with other responding agencies on their participation with reports or evidence.
  7. Make sure your cops treat the suspect with dignity and respect.


    • They have an ethical obligation to do so.
    • There is a huge potential payoff in what he might reveal in the immediate aftermath or later on if he is
    • treated properly.
    • He may make critical admissions and/or reveal undiscovered evidence or unknown hazards.
  8. Make training on communications an integral component of all exercises. Post-exercise debriefings should place as much emphasis on success in communication and on success in the field operations.
  9. Value, honor and protect victims in the aftermath.


    • Offer victims and families seasoned law enforcement professionals to help – PIO’s (to assist with media), trained victim advocates and pre-vetted psychological services professionals.
    • Avoid re-victimization by ill-intentioned do-gooders, including faith leaders.
  10. Getting families answers about their loved ones must be among the highest priorities.


    • Tracking the victims – injured and deceased – is critically important in the early hours of the event.
    • Assign a key contact (e.g., a detective) to this function at each hospital.
    • Establish an early, direct liaison with the coroner.
    • Remove the bodies, identify them and make formal notifications to the families as soon as possible.
  11. Allow your personnel time and space to prepare their post-event reports.


    • Expect that some personnel may need to do supplemental reports later on, as they process and recall more of what occurred.
  12. Make psychological services, peer support and chaplains/faith leaders available to all first responders as soon as reasonably possible.


    • Offer group and individual debriefing with psychological professionals.
    • Include 911 tapes and radio transmissions in these debriefings.
    • Consider hospital reunions with cops, survivors, and families.
    • Rely on front-line supervisors to lead in these efforts and to identify who is struggling to cope.
    • Provide ongoing psychological and peer support for as long as it takes.
    • Accept that healing and recovery for your personnel may take months or years.
  13. Prepare for significant food donations for the first responders. `


    • Restaurants will start delivering food to your officers on post and at police facilities.
    • Record who is donating early on so that donors can be recognized later.
    • Be prepared to deliver food to officers working long-term scenes.
    • These are tasks where citizen volunteers can be particularly helpful.
  14. Donations will pour in for the victims.


    • Advise your government to set up a fund through a reputable non-profit charity.
    • Do NOT allow your police department to be involved in the fund.
    • In-kind donations of air travel and lodging may also come in.
    • Be prepared for fraudsters to take advantage of the victims and willing donors.
  15. Expect a makeshift memorial to spring up immediately.


    • The community and victim’s families will expect the police to protect the memorial.
    • Plan early on how and when to take it down.
    • Obtain input from the victim families.
    • Any items not claimed by the families should be carefully retrieved and archived.
  16. Internet deniers and conspiracy theorists will spring up immediately, even on the first full day of the event.


    • The worst of these will contact media with false accounts of what occurred.
    • As victims are identified, they will contact families, causing terrible additional anguish and victimization.
    • Your officers, victim advocates and the families themselves should be prepared for this possibility
  17. The value/importance of the media crush is the opportunity to convey information.


    • Share only the details the press reasonably needs.
    • Convey reassurance and competence in the handling of the event.
    • Press conferences should be carefully prepared and tightly scripted.
    • Simple email and social media updates will suffice in between the formal press conferences.
    • Keep the press conferences to a minimum.
    • End the media circus as soon as you reasonably can.
Additional Resources
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