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Movie Theater Massacre; Police Searched Suspect's Home; Politics On Hold After Colorado Shooting; Romney: "Our Hearts Break"; Colorado Shootings And Gun Control Debate; Colorado Horror: 71 Shot, 12 Dead

Aired July 20, 2012 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're continuing to follow the breaking news.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got seven down in theater nine, seven down!


BLITZER: A horrible mass shooting in a movie theater near Denver, 71 people dead -- 71 people shot -- excuse me -- 71 people shot -- 12 of them are dead. Many of the wounded still are in critical condition.

A suspect is in custody, Colorado's governor calling him a man with "a deranged mind." We're getting in new pictures and details as we speak, including more from the survivors and some heartbreaking stories about the victims.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're going live to the scene of the shooting in just a moment, but first a quick rundown of what happened on this horrible day.

The shooting started after midnight about 12:38 a.m. in theater nine of the Century Aurora 16 multiplex. Aurora's a suburb of Denver. About 15 minutes into the midnight showing of the new Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises," a lone gunman came in through an exit door near the screen.


JENNIFER SEEGER, EYEWITNESS: And when he came in, I just thought he was some kind of prop or some kind of theatrical guy. I didn't think he was like a bad guy or anything.

And he let off a canister of gas and it exploded. And everybody thought it was just a prop. Then he shot up in the air and everybody started to panic at that point. When he went straight from the air, he came down with his gun in my face. He was about three feet away from me at that point. In that instant, I honestly didn't know what to do. I was terrified.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Cell phone video posted on YouTube shows the panic and the confusion as people ran out of the theater, some of them drenched in blood.

Police were on the scene within two minutes of when the shooting started. Some stormed the theater. Others helped the victims.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Theater is secure. We're bringing out bodies now. Get someone in the back as soon as you can. Rescue personnel. I got at least three to seven hit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cruiser 10, I need a medical crew in nine. I have got one victim eviscerated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I need somebody to shut this movie off. How do you shut the movie off in nine?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do I have permission to start taking some of these victims via car? I got a whole bunch of people shot out here and no rescue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Load them up. Get them in cars. Get them out of here.


BLITZER: The suspected gunman now identified as 24-year-old James Eagan Holmes. He was arrested outside the theater near the back of a parking lot.

Outside, police found three weapons in that car. Another gun was found inside the theater. Authorities evacuated everyone in the suspect's apartment building by 4:00 a.m. after he warned them that his home was booby-trapped.

When they broke in later, they found incendiary and chemical devices as well as apparent trip wires. Police are still on the scene at that apartment.

Let's get the very latest right now starting with CNN's Ed Lavandera. He's over at the movie theater where all of this unfolded.

What is the very latest, Ed?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we have just confirmed with a law enforcement source as to where these four guns were purchased. We have been told by this law enforcement source that all four guns were purchased legally within the last six months.

Two of the guns were purchased at a Bass Pro Shop in the city of Denver. One of the guns was purchased at a Mountain Gander gun store here in the town of Aurora. Another one was purchased at a Gander Mountain store in the town of Thornton, Colorado, as well. Again, the law enforcement source saying that those guns were purchased legally within the last six months. We're also told by that law enforcement source that they had found a drum magazine that was connected to the AR-15 rifle. This would have given James Holmes the ability to shoot about 100 rounds with that magazine, and the source saying obviously that gave him much more capability to fire off many, many rounds once inside that theater.

And, Wolf, what we have learned from talking to witnesses who were inside theater number nine when this shooting erupted in the early morning just before 12:40, just a few minutes after the Batman movie had premiered and started playing in that movie theater, horrifying accounts of what happened. Many people simply felt trapped.

We spoke with one witness who was sitting next to a man who was shot in the chest or gut. The descriptions of what happened in there, Wolf, have simply been horrifying.

BLITZER: Right now, what's the scene like where you are? I assume that investigators are all over the place, certainly over the apartment complex as well.

LAVANDERA: Well, you can imagine it's a horrible scene still inside the movie theater, where investigators are still inside.

According to the police chief here in Aurora who spoke just a few hours ago, many of the bodies, the victims' bodies are still inside that theater while they continue to do their investigative work and do all the ballistic work that they need to do.

And really what they're trying to figure out here is motive. The police chief would not comment on what James Holmes' motive was. And interestingly enough, not a lot of specifics as to how he got into the movie theater. Presuming that that exit door -- witnesses told us he had come into the theater from the exit door, which was just to the right of the movie screen, which led to the outside of the movie theater building.

Presuming that that door is locked from the outside, police not saying exactly how James Holmes could have gotten in there. Did he have help? Did he leave that door propped open at some point? Did he -- to what degree was all this planned out?

BLITZER: Ed, stand by for a moment. I'm going to be coming back to you.

We have got a lot of reporters on the scene right now. Our own Anderson Cooper is in Colorado. He's going to be reporting later tonight, including for us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're watching all of this unfold. It's been a horrible, horrible day, not only for the people of Aurora, but for all of the people who have been watching all of this unfold in the United States and around the world.

It's just been an unbearable situation for so many folks there. Jennifer Seeger was with a friend in the second row of the Aurora movie theater when the gunman stormed in. Jennifer is joining us now from Aurora.

And, Jennifer, first of all, how are you doing right now after the ordeal you went through?

SEEGER: Honestly, I'm just taking it one step at a time.

And I'm trying to just be strong for those families that lost their family members today. It's kind of a shelter shock for me right now. It hasn't really sunk in. But I think the more time that I have to settle down and just kind of reflect over things, it's going to start to get to me and wear on me.

But I'm trying to push through it and be strong for the people that lost their families.

BLITZER: All right. So just walk us through -- first of all, where were you sitting when the alleged gunman came through that exit door near the front of the theater?

SEEGER: I was -- there's the screen, right? And then there's the front row. I was in the second row behind that on the very right side. I was the first person that he could see when he walked in the door on the right-hand side through emergency exits.

And he -- everybody thought that he was just some kind of actor or some kind of prop or some kind of thing that was supposed to enhance the premier, as far as that goes. And then they started noticing that it was real. And he had taken a canister of gas and took the top of it and let it off into the crowd.

And it was tear gas or something of that nature. And it was getting hard to breathe. And then he at that point shot his first fire into the ceiling. And then everybody began to panic saying, there's a gun, there's a gun, there's a gun. Everybody started running.

And then straight from the ceiling, he pulled his gun down and then put it in front of my face. There was a gun literally in front of my face. He was about three or four feet away from me. And at that point, I was just in a panic.

And I realized if I didn't do anything, if I just stood there and I didn't move or try anything, I literally had five seconds to live, because he was going to shoot me. So I just dove as fast and as quick as I could into the aisle. And I just tucked myself under the chair as fast as I could with my friend, my best friend.

And I was just telling everybody to be really calm and just not move until he went up the stairs and then crawl out of the aisle. In the meantime, he was shooting people behind me. And there was bullets about this big falling on my face. And they were hot. They were just fresh. They were rounds. I could smell the gunpowder.

I could hear the people moaning and groaning. The women and children were fleeing. It was scary. It was scary. They were screaming. Then he started going up the stairs and shooting people in the aisles that way and then walking into the aisles. And everybody was getting shot. Every single time that they tried to escape, he would shoot them. He never had a specific agenda. He was just literally relentless and shooting anybody he possibly could get his hands on at that point.

And he was a big guy.


BLITZER: Jennifer, as far as you could tell, did anyone try to jump this guy, to stop this guy? Or was he just killing people or shooting people as he was moving up and down the aisle?

SEEGER: You know, I get that question a lot.

As far as I can tell, everybody was just so in a panic. They were just trying to survive and not get hit that they scattered so quickly that the thought didn't even cross their mind until after the fact, you know what I mean? Because everybody was starting to say if I would have been calm or if I would have had this, I would had that, I would have stopped the guy, I would have had this, I would have had that, I would have shot the guy or this and that.

But at that point, really everybody's main focus was just get out of there, get out of there because he was going to shoot as many people as possible, and they knew it. So, yes, it was really a terrifying experience.

BLITZER: And you say he came in. You thought he was wearing a costume.

What did he look like? Could you see his face, for example? Or was he wearing a mask?


SEEGER: Yes, exactly. No. He was wearing a gas mask, a regular one, not like the one in Bane or anything.

He was wearing a regular gas mask so he could breathe after he let off the tear gas. And he was wearing Kevlar, like a full riot suit. He looked like he was a SWAT man, you know what I mean? He looked like one of the cops, so that's why it was really confusing for us at first.

And you couldn't see any skin color or any race. He was covered from head to toe. And at that point, all you could tell was height and weight. And he was about 185 pounds, 200 pounds, and about 6', 6'3'', give or the take, and a strong build at that point.

BLITZER: Were you injured at all? Were you physically injured at all, Jennifer?

SEEGER: I mean, my knees are a little scraped up, but nothing too big. I don't have any gunshot wounds or anything sprained or broken or anything that -- it's more emotional damage than anything.

BLITZER: And the friend you were with?

SEEGER: He's fine, actually. He stayed by my side the entire time. I actually kept him calm and then he kept everybody else calm around us. And our goal was just to try to get as many people out of there as we could.

BLITZER: And I know you tried to help some of those people who were injured. Walk us through that.

SEEGER: Yes. Well, right after we had gotten out of the aisle that we were in, I told everybody to go make a run for it.

As they did that, they came back in because he was shooting people trying to exit the exit. And then I told everybody just to lay down on the ground and play dead and just be very still, because he wasn't going to shoot something that he thought was already dead. And at that point I told everybody to make a run for it.

They did. He left the building. I had no idea because I was just so focused on getting everybody out and staying as low as possible. And then I saw just dead bodies laying on the stairs, dead bodies -- people that were injured all over the seats, hanging over the seats.

There was a 12-year-old girl who was just lifeless laying on the stairs. And then I tried to get out myself because I was having a hard time breathing with the tear gas. And I had run into this boy. He was probably 18 years old. And at that point, I realized he was mumbling and he was still alive.

And I have previous EMT training. And it just kicked in instinctively for me to check his pulse and see how he is, to see what his critical condition was. He was very critical. And so I needed to get him out. So I put my arm underneath him to try to pull him out. At that point, I started to drag him. And then everybody started screaming, no, just leave him there, just leave him there. The gunner is coming back, so he's going to shoot you. Just run. Just run.

So I just run. But I would have gladly taken that man's life -- or taken a bullet for that man to be able to live.


BLITZER: Was the movie still on the screen as all of this was unfolding? Or did they immediately end it and turn on the lights, for example?

SEEGER: Are you asking if the movie ended during the whole thing?

BLITZER: Was the movie up still on the screen as the gunman was shooting?

SEEGER: Yes. The movie was on the entire time.

BLITZER: The whole time. SEEGER: As far as I could see, it was on. And -- yes, it was just chaos. Like, so it's just noise from the movie, noise from the people, noise from the gunshots.

And there was numerous gunshots. I just -- I can't even account to you how many there were. He just loaded rounds and rounds and rounds to people.

BLITZER: And I had heard, Jennifer -- I don't know if this is true -- but you would know that when that gunman came in and started shooting, there happened to have been a rather violent scene in the film as well. You heard gunfire, for example, in the film. So a lot of people thought this may have been part of the same thing.

SEEGER: There was -- he was actually in two theaters. He was in theater eight and nine. I was in nine.

That access door that he came through, apparently, I think was connected to the other theater. And they were in a farther part of the movie. And apparently that was the theater that had the violent scene.

In our scene, it wasn't, as far as I can remember. It's kind of all of a blur as far as I can see. But as far as I could see, literally, the only part I could see was that Catwoman was getting into a car and he was looking at to prints to try to figure out who she was. That wasn't a violent scene. There was no guns. There was no nothing.

BLITZER: Jennifer Seeger, thanks so much.

Jennifer, may I ask, how old are you?

SEEGER: I'm 22 years old.

BLITZER: Twenty-two. Well, you're remarkably poised, and we're grateful to you for sharing the story. And we're obviously grateful that you're OK, your friend's OK. And we will stay in close touch with you. Thanks so much.

SEEGER: Well, thank you so much. And I'm grateful to be here.

BLITZER: And good luck to you, Jennifer Seeger sharing her story, an incredible story. She was in the second row when that gunman walked in and started shooting, 71 people shot, 12 of whom are now dead.

We're going to go to the apartment complex where this alleged gunman lived, where police are now investigating. You're looking at live pictures from outside that apartment complex. We will show you what's going on. Our own Kyung Lah is on the scene -- much more of the breaking news right after this.


ALEX MILAND, EYEWITNESS: As soon as we heard the first shots, my sister immediately grabbed my arm and wanted to leave as quick as possible. Yes, it was terrifying. (END VIDEO CLIP)


DONOVAN TATE, WITNESS: There was this one guy who was on all fours crawling. There was this girl spitting up blood. There were bullet holes in some people's back, some people's arms. There was this one guy who was stripped down to like just his boxers. It looked like he had been shot in the back or something. It was crazy.


BLITZER: Learning more details now about the shooting suspect James Eagan Holmes. There's a picture.

He graduated with highest honors from the University of California Riverside in 2010, received a Bachelor of Science degree in neuroscience. Last year, Holmes enrolled in the graduate program in neurosciences at the University of Colorado's Denver campus. A university statement today says he was in the process of withdrawing from that program.

Right now, police still are at Holmes' apartment. They're trying to figure out what was going on. They're trying to dismantle any of the explosive devices he left behind.

Here's what Aurora's police chief told reporters a little while ago.


CHIEF DAN OATES, AURORA, COLORADO POLICE: Our investigation determined that his apartment is booby-trapped with various incendiary and chemical devices and apparent trip wires. So we have an active and difficult scene there. It may be resolved in hours or days. We simply don't know how we're going to handle that.


BLITZER: CNN's Kyung Lah is on the scene for us at that apartment complex. She's got more on this part of the investigation.

Kyung, what are you learning?

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Wolf. Even though it doesn't look like a very active scene with officers running around, this is indeed very active. Police are backing up people because they are concerned about how dangerous this might be.

You see this tape where I'm standing right here? We were moved back about 30 minutes ago. If you look further down where that fire truck is, that's where we were standing. Officers are widening the area because they are very concerned if you look further down to where that second fire truck is, that's right near the suspect's apartment. And it is inside that apartment where you just heard the police chief talk about those booby traps, the incendiary devices, chemical devices.

And so, that's why police have evacuated five buildings of people here. Certainly, it has alarmed people here in this community.

But it has especially alarmed one man we met just a short time ago. He actually had a beer with the suspect on Tuesday. And he says that this has certainly alarmed him and everyone here. Listen to what he said.


JACKIE MITCHELL, HAD DRINK WITH SUSPECT ON TUESDAY: I live down the next block. And I woke up this morning to helicopters and yellow tape. And I'm like, wow. (INAUDIBLE) I usually to get to work I come through here. But, I mean, see this, knowing this guy's down the street at the bar with me drinking a beer and he lives right here and I'm on the next block, with explosives? That's insane.


LAH: So I asked Mitchell, did you have any sign? Was there anything in his eyes, how he dressed, that something might be up? He said absolutely not. He looked like an average college student -- someone who he described as being quite geeky and sheepish, and perhaps even a little shy. But that he had nothing in his face, Wolf, that would give way as to what would happen overnight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And as far as motivation is concerned involving this suspect, the police chief there says they're not going to say anything about the motivation that may have occurred.

Are you learning anything at all, Kyung, about what may have motivated this suspect to do this kind of mass shooting?

LAH: Well, he didn't really open up to the people here in the neighborhood perhaps. Mr. Mitchell, who we spoke to, knew him best just because he had a beer with him this week. He dressed, went to school, he came home. People did see him going back and forth. He wasn't hiding anything.

They didn't suspect that he was doing anything illicit inside of his apartment. They just really thought he was just another student in the neighborhood, Wolf. They just didn't have any idea. And certainly no idea about what would have motivated him to do what he did if indeed that's what the courts do decide and find out.

BLITZER: We know he graduated with high honors, with a B.S., Bachelor of Science degree in California, was enrolled in a graduate program at the University of Colorado in Denver. Aurora's a suburb of Denver, but he was withdrawing from that program.

Has the university or anyone else suggested why he decided to withdraw from the program?

LAH: At this point, we haven't heard anything about what would have led him to do that. And from his behavior, from what some of the neighbors have told us, they didn't really think that he had a particular schedule that he was sticking to. Mitchell said he saw him going back and forth in and out of his apartment. He thought he was still enrolled in school.

BLITZER: How close are you, Kyung, how close are they letting you to the actual stand over there, close to the apartment where the obviously the bomb squad is continuing to try to dismantle in incendiary devices?

LAH: Well, let me give you a quick look. So, again, here's the tape. If you look further down you see that tape -- another set of tape. And then you see that fire truck. Right next to that fire truck, that's where the apartment building is. And what we have seen when we were at the closer location is that it's the third floor where we saw some of the windows that had been broken by police as they were trying to figure out what's happening inside that apartment.

So it's about where that fire truck is, so about maybe 100 to 150 yards. But we were quite a bit closer, Wolf. And at this point, that's why police decided that we were perhaps too close and they wanted to push us back.

BLITZER: And it looks like just the typical suburban neighborhood in Aurora, which is a suburb of Denver. Kyung, we'll stay in close touch with you.

Kyung Lah is on the scene for us outside the apartment complex.

Witnesses say at first they thought the gunman was a special effect to the film. Then he opened fire. We're going to walk you through what happened. Our own Tom Foreman has the minute-by-minute developments.


BLITZER: Moviegoers, some of them young children, had packed a theater in Aurora, Colorado, for a midnight premier of the new Batman film. Then horror when a gunman entered through a rear exit door and opened fire.

Let's go to CNN's Tom Foreman. He's been piecing together exactly how all of this unfolded minute-by-minute. Tom, tell our viewers what you learned.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is where it all happened as you've been telling, folks, in a mall area, a theater outside of the mall in Aurora, just to east of downtown Denver. There's a mall over. Here's the theater down there -- specifically it was theater number nine where the midnight premier was underway.

Take a look at these number up here. Around 12:37, 12:38, something like that, that is when there was a moment in the movie which many people say was kind of loud, one of your witnesses said maybe not, maybe that was in another one. In any event, at that moment they say, that is when they saw a man in black walk in wearing a bullet proof vest and a gas mask. They say he tossed a canister in the room that began hissing and spraying what police suggest may have been tear gas or pepper spray.

Witnesses say the man then shoots into the ceiling. And then begins firing into the crowd.

Police will later say that he had an AR-15 with him. This one is disassembled. You can see that. He also had a 12-gauge shotgun. And they'll say he had a Gloc 40-caliber handgun with him.

He was shooting very fast according to police.

Twelve-thirty-nine, hundreds of calls start pouring into police headquarters. Officers race to the theater.

At 12:40, they arrive. Less than a minute after these calls started and they find victims staggering out through the lobby. They start surrounding the theater calling for more officers and ambulances.

Twelve-forty-two, some witnesses say the gunman is still shooting. Officers call for gas masks so they can enter the theater.

Twelve-forty-six, at some point here witnesses say inside for some reason that they don't yet understand, the gunman simply stopped shooting and walks right back out the exit that he came in through toward his car just outside. And that is where police grab him.

Officials say he offers no resistance and still carrying two of his weapons having left one inside the theater. They say they also find a handgun inside his car, an additional one. They say in addition to all that the vest and the gas masks that they said he was wearing at the time -- the suspect shown here at least -- they say he was wearing a ballistic throat protector, a groin protector as well and wearing black tactical gloves presumably to hold the guns a little more securely.

Simultaneously other officers have now flooded into the theatre that we were talking about earlier. And what they're finding is a scene of immense carnage, Wolf. At least seven people are so badly wounded that they could not run at all.

Some are children. Police say some cannot even be moved at this point. There's so much damage to them. People describe horrific wounds to people's heads, arms, legs, bodies. Some shots even appear to have penetrated the wall injuring people in the next theatre.

At 12:55 less than 20 minutes after all of this began you can see what's happened next. They move onto see what else they can find out about this suspect at his apartment up here. Police have cordoned off the area.

The suspect at this point has told them that he does not have anybody else working with him. That he was acting alone. Nevertheless they seal off the entire mall area to question witnesses.

And the ambulances are so overwhelmed, Wolf, that a number of the victims are being driven by the police themselves, some critically wounded to hospitals trying to save their lives -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You know, 71 people were shot, 12 of them are dead. We don't know how many rounds the suspect actually fired, do we, Tom?

FOREMAN: We don't know. The police did say he fired a tremendous number of rounds in a very short period of time. Witnesses have said the same thing all day, Wolf.

They said he was just emptying these guns as fast as he could. Police say they do believe he used all three of the guns. We don't know if he reloaded at any time or how big the magazines were.

But indications are that a lot of shots rained out into this theatre over a very short period of time, perhaps two, three, four minutes.

BLITZER: And all these weapons apparently Ed Lavandera reporting at the top of the hour, you heard him, Tom, were purchased legally apparently in Colorado. You spent a lot of time in Colorado. Correct me if I'm wrong, you covered the Columbine massacre. Is this unusual? What can you tell us about that?

FOREMAN: None of these weapons that are being described here as far as I can tell from the basic description, none of them are illegal anywhere. We have a municipality that may have a law against them.

But in most states these are weapons that can be bought by somebody who passes particularly the handguns background check, that sort of thing. But these are not particularly unusual weapons.

Probably the assault rifle is one that would most assault people, but certainly the handguns and shotgun are pretty standard. There are a lot of them out there.

That said, we don't know, Wolf, if there were any modifications to any of these that would have made them much more fast in their firing power, if there was anything that could have been done to make them more deadly -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Tom, good report. Tom Foreman, thank you.

Flags are at half staff, campaign politics are paused in the wake of today's mass shooting. Just ahead, we're going to hear what President Obama and Mitt Romney had to say.


BLITZER: The Colorado shootings put the presidential campaign on hold. Right now, President Obama is back at the White House after cutting short his trip to Florida.

Aides informed him of the massacre before dawn. Before heading back to Washington, he made an emotional statement that was supposed to have been a campaign rally.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: If there's anything to take away from this tragedy, it's the reminder that life is very fragile. Our time here is limited and it is precious. And what matters at the end of the day is not the small things. It's not the trivial things, which so often consume us and our daily lives. Ultimately, it's how we choose to treat one another and how we love one another.

My daughters go to the movies. What if Malia and Sasha had been at the theatre as so many of our kids do every day? Michelle and I will be fortunate enough to hug our girls a little tighter tonight. And I'm sure you will do the same with your children.

But for those parents who may not be so lucky, we have to embrace them and let them know we will be there for them as a nation. I'm so grateful that all of you are here.

I am so moved by your support, but there are going to be other days for politics. This I think is a day for prayer and reflection.


BLITZER: Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin is joining us now from the White House. Jessica, the president's back. I assume he's working in the oval office, but what do we know? What's his game plan right now to deal with this horrendous tragedy?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. That's right. When I checked minutes ago, he was working in the oval. As you know, he's been receiving briefings, three already today, from a team that includes his Homeland Security Director John Brennan, the head of the FBI, his chief of staff as well.

And we'll continue to get those briefings. The president canceled a second campaign event today. They have pulled down their campaign ads in Colorado. And as of now, Wolf, the president has a quiet weekend planned in D.C.

And he also is scheduled to make a swing out west beginning Monday. So right now, there is no plan for him to go to Colorado, but it would not be hard for them to add that trip either this weekend, it seems, or perhaps on that swing when he is already planned to go to Nevada and Seattle beginning Monday.

He's already spoken with the governor of the state and the mayor there. And as I say, he's constantly in touch with his officials who are keeping him briefed.

So we will continue to get updates on those contacts. But I wouldn't be surprised if they add a trip out there some time in the next few days -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm sure they will. And he did order flags at the White House and elsewhere to be at half staff. We're looking at a live picture of one of those flags atop the White House, didn't he?

YELLIN: He did, Wolf. He ordered those flags at half staff. And as you say, he's made emotional remarks today. Also Jay Carney, the press spokesman here, made emotional remarks to the media saying that the president's initial comments when he heard about this were first, is this still going on?

And his second thoughts were immediately about the family and his own family and kids as he reflected in those comments. But something else that's been, you know, raised is he did not in those remarks that you heard talk about gun safety or gun control.

As he did not in Fort Hood or Gabby Giffords remarks either in passing reference something that no doubt will come up in the days to come -- Wolf.

BLITZER: No doubt. The debate over gun control in the United States will be revived. Jessica, thanks very much.

The Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, also put his campaign on hold after speaking out. We're going to go to CNN's Jim Acosta in New Hampshire to see what Mitt Romney is up to on this day as well.


BLITZER: Mitt Romney also put politics on hold today in New Hampshire. He offered his condolences.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our hearts break with the sadness of this unspeakable tragedy. Ann and I join the president and first lady and all Americans in offering our deepest condolences for those whose lives were shattered in a few moments, a few moments of evil, in Colorado.

I stand before you today not as a man running for office, but as a father and grandfather, a husband and American. This is a time for each of us to look into our hearts and remember how much we love one another and how much we love and how much we care for our great country.

Grieving and worried families in Aurora are surrounded with love today. And not just by those who are with them and holding them in their arms, they can also know that they're being lifted up in prayer by people in every part of our great nation.

Now and in the hard days to come may every one of them feel the sympathy of our whole nation and the comfort of a living God.


BLITZER: Let's bring in our national political correspondent Jim Acosta with the governor in New Hampshire right now. Very emotional comments from Mitt Romney on this really, really horrendous day. He also, I take it, suspended his campaigning, also some of the advertising, the political advertising in Colorado?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. The Romney campaign was set to hold a rally earlier today here in New Hampshire just outside of Manchester. But after hearing the news coming out of Colorado this morning, Mitt Romney decided on a change of plans. Instead of his usual stump speech, he put that aside.

And instead delivered what was a four-minute period of remarks that really sort of reflected on his feelings about the tragedy out in Colorado. Interesting to note, Wolf, I talked to a senior Romney advisor who said they went through the effort of sending young staffers to this event site earlier this morning to take down some of the political campaign signs that they had put there in advance of this event.

Instead the signage put up a simple backdrop of American flags and podium in stage for former Massachusetts governor. And something else we want to show you. We have some video of this to show you something extraordinary happened at the end of this event because typically these events as you know, Wolf, are very ruckus and rowdy.

The audience, the crowd at this Romney event was very sombre and very silent. As they were filing out of this event after the governor's remarks, he walked up to them and sort of an impromptu fashion and as they made a line to leave the event, he shook their hands, exchanged hugs with some of the people leaving this event. It was a gesture of sympathy.

And I think it was also well-received by the people who were leaving this event. I had a chance to talk to a senior Romney advisor about all this.

That advisor said, you know, Mitt Romney could have decided to do no speech today, to have no event today. But he wanted to say something, Wolf. He wanted to share his reflections on this tragedy. And it was well-received by the crowd in New Hampshire today -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well-received around the country I'm sure as well. Just as the president's remarks were as well. Jim Acosta, thank you.

The Colorado shootings already have reignited the fight over gun control in the United States. We're going to tackle that issue and a lot more of the breaking news coverage right after this.


BLITZER: A federal law enforcement official tells CNN all the suspect's guns were purchased legally in the last several months. Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, explains why gun control is such a difficult political issue these days.


DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The sun was barely up when New York's mayor used the Colorado massacre to scold President Obama and Mitt Romney for ignoring the gun issue.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), NEW YORK: This is a real problem. No matter where you stand on the second amendment, no matter where you stand on guns, we have a right to hear from both of them concretely.

BASH: He's right. Gun policy is a back-burner debate these days largely because Democrats who had pushed for tighter gun laws concluded it's bad politics.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We still believe there are a number of students inside the school.

BASH: After the 1999 Columbine shooting, Al Gore played a central role in ill-fated gun control legislation.

AL GORE (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: It is time for some common sense gun safety measures.

BASH: Democratic strategists believed Gore and other Democrats lost critical votes in rural America by pushing for stricter gun laws.

JIM MANLEY, FORMER SENATE DEMOCRATIC LEADERSHIP AIDE: There began a subtle shift to start trying to get more pro-gun Democrats to run.

BASH: Democrat Jim Manley worked in the Senate for more than 20 years and witnessed the change up close.

(on camera): Is there an open acknowledgment that gun control is bad politics for Democrats?

MANLEY: All you have to do is look at polling to realize that's the case.

BASH (voice-over): So even though President Clinton signed an assault weapons ban in 1994 with fun fair it lapsed in 2004 without much of a fight. Even after major tragedies shoved the gun issue into the headlines there was some talk, but little action.

The 2007 Virginia Tech massacre resulted in a minor change beefing up background checks for the mentally ill. Last year's assassination attempt of then-Congresswoman Gabby Giffords produced a few calls to make high capacity magazines used in that shooting illegal.

SENATOR FRANK LAUTENBERG (D), NEW JERSEY: There is no earthly reason for these weapons to have that kind of bullet capacity in them.

BASH: But Senate Democrats wouldn't hold a vote. And Giffords' Republican colleagues told us new laws were useless.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bad guys are going to get guns. They're going to get clips. They're going to do bad things.

BASH: In fact, the Democrat-led Senate hasn't voted on any gun legislation in three years since defeating a GOP measure that would have required states to recognize each other's gun laws. Why? Many still point to the NRA.

MANLEY: The NRA's an extremely powerful organization. And they deliver votes and they deliver money.

BASH: The NRA's Wayne Lapierre in April.

WAYNE LAPIERRE, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: When we're done speaking out, sir, gun on earth will have made the difference in key precincts in battleground states all over the heartland of this country.

BASH: Never mind that President Obama's barely touched the gun issue. The NRA is still mobilizing members against him.

LAPIERRE: It's all over the heartland of this country and you'll have us to blame for your defeat in November.


BASH: The NRA released a statement today saying simply that their thoughts and prayers are with the victims' families. But, Wolf, when you talk about whether or not this is going to happen in the future talking to Democratic and Rrepublican sources given the dicey politics, it's unlikely.

BLITZER: Neither the president nor Mitt Romney today mentioned anything about guns.

BASH: Never mind members of Congress.

BLITZER: All right, Bloomberg did though, mayor of New York. Thank you, Dana. Good report.

Up next, we're going back live to Aurora, Colorado. We'll have the very latest on the investigation. We're getting new information from the police right now. That's coming up right after this break.


BLITZER: And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, breaking news, the largest mass shooting in U.S. history. A gunman dressed to kill turns a Colorado theatre into a shooting gallery.

The suspect, a 24-year-old, PhD student left his apartment heavily booby trapped. We're learning new details about him this hour. And we'll also hear from survivors. Recounting how a midnight movie turned into a scene of terror and chaos.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He came down with his gun in my face. He was about three feet away from me at that point. In that instant I honestly didn't know what to do. I was terrified.