In Chaos And 'Severe Trauma,' Colo. Lives At Risk

Jul 21, 2012
Originally published on July 21, 2012 8:48 pm

In Colorado, authorities are investigating why a gunman opened fire in a movie theater on Friday. Suspect James Holmes is in custody, and police say they have talked with the 24-year-old, but won't say yet what they've learned.

Meanwhile, vigils are planned this weekend to remember the 12 people who died and to support the dozens injured. In all, there were 70 casualties — police say nearly all of them suffered gunshot wounds.

'It Was Like A Dream'

The late-night screening of The Dark Knight Rises was a family outing for Jamie Rohrs and his fiancee. Outside the theater after the shooting, Rohrs says he was holding their 4-month-old son when the gunman began firing.

"People were falling, and it was like a dream. And then I'm kind of crawling, stumbling, trying to figure out what to do," he says. "Do I run out the door? ... Is he going to shoot the baby?"

The family made it out OK, but others did not. Among the dead is 25-year-old Jessica Ghawi, an aspiring sportswriter. Her brother, Jordan, spoke to KUSA-TV in Denver Friday.

"I got the phone call minutes after the shooting began from a gentleman who was with my sister. He had contacted my mother. My mother contacted me, hysterical," he said.

Jessica Ghawi was feeling lucky lately. In June, she experienced another shooting — in a Toronto mall. Denver Post sportswriter Adrian Dater says Ghawi talked with him about the experience a few weeks back.

"I think she was still a little shell-shocked from it. She wasn't traumatized by it or anything at the moment, but you could definitely tell that it was on her mind," he says. "We talked quite a bit about it. She said it made her feel lucky and that she was never going to take anything for granted again."

Victims Flood Hospitals

Many of those who were injured during the shooting were taken to various local hospitals. Kevin Rothchild is a surgeon at the University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus. He received a call to report to work shortly after the shooting.

"We had 23 patients come in, probably in less than an hour," he says.

Rothchild says the emergency department looked like a war zone. But instead of soldiers, he says there were shocked, horrified young people who were just going out to the movies when something awful happened.

"Things you would not expect to see, basically, from a gunshot wound," he says. "I think it was high-powered rifle injuries. Severe trauma that is just really atypical. We weren't sure if there was a bomb blast, initially."

He says there was a lot of confusion, but also order that came from drills designed to prepare the staff for an incident like this.

A Chill On Campus

After hours in surgery, Rothchild was able to catch up on the news. He learned that the man police arrested had recently been a doctoral student on the campus where he works.

"The most chilling thing about it is this is somebody ... I could have seen a week ago on our campus," he says. "Just the fact that somebody could be with us one day and have such a severe break from reality, is just kind of — I don't like to think about that, really."

University of Colorado officials say police with dogs have searched through research buildings on campus. They'll continue sweeps through buildings this weekend, just to make sure it's safe.

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Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Authorities in Colorado are investigating why a 24-year-old man allegedly opened fire in a local movie theater. James Holmes is in custody. Police say they've talked with him, but won't say yet what they've learned.

At a news conference last night, Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado struggled for the words to explain the tragedy.

GOVERNOR JOHN HICKENLOOPER: It's an act that defies descriptions. You can't connect emotions that we commonly think of. I mean, everyone I've talked to all day is filled with an anger that can't find focus.

SIMON: Vigils are planned this weekend to remember the 12 people who died and to support the dozens who were injured. In all, there were 70 casualties. Police say nearly all of them suffered gunshot wounds. NPR's Jeff Brady reports from Aurora, Colorado.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: A late-night screening of "The Dark Knight Rises" was a family outing for Jamie Rohrs and his fiancee. Outside the theater after the shooting, Rohrs says he was holding their 4-month old son when the gunman began firing.

JAMIE ROHRS: People were falling and it was like a dream. It was just like - and then I'm kind of crawling, stumbling, trying to figure out what to do. What am I going to do? Do I run out the door? I'm tall. Is he going to shoot the baby? Because I'm holding the baby like this. What am I to do?

BRADY: The family made it out OK, but others did not. Among the dead, 25 year-old Jessica Ghawi an aspiring sportswriter. Her brother Jordan spoke to KUSA-TV in Denver.

JORDAN GHAWI: I got the phone call minutes after the shooting began from a gentleman who was with my sister. And he had contacted my mother. My mother contacted me, hysterical.

BRADY: Jessica Ghawi was feeling lucky lately. Last month, she experienced another shooting in a Toronto mall. Denver Post sportswriter Adrian Dater says Ghawi talked with him about the experience a few weeks back.

ADRIAN DATER: I think she was still a little shell-shocked from it. She didn't - wasn't traumatized by it or anything at the moment. But you could definitely tell that it was on her mind. We talked quite a bit about it. She said that it made her feel lucky and that she was never going to take anything for granted again.

SIMON: Many of those who were injured during the shooting were taken to various local hospitals. Kevin Rothchild is a surgeon at the University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus. He received a call to report to work shortly after the shooting.

KEVIN ROTHCHILD: We had 23 patients come in, probably in less than an hour.

BRADY: Rothchild says the emergency department looked like a war zone. But instead of soldiers, he says there were shocked, horrified young people who were just going out to the movies when something awful happened.

ROTHCHILD: Things you would not expect to see basically from a gunshot wound. I think it was high-powered rifle injuries. Severe trauma that is just really atypical. We weren't sure if there was a bomb blast initially.

BRADY: He says there was a lot of confusion but also order that came from drills designed to prepare the staff for an incident like this. After hours in surgery, Rothchild was able to catch up on the news. He learned that the man police arrested - 24 year old James Holmes - had recently been a doctoral student on the campus where he works.

ROTHCHILD: The most chilling thing about it is that this is somebody I could have seen a week ago on our campus. Just the fact that somebody could be with us one day and have such a severe break from reality. It's just kind of - I don't like to think about that really.

BRADY: University of Colorado officials say police with dogs have searched through research buildings on campus. And they'll continue sweeps through buildings this weekend, just to make sure it's safe.

Jeff Brady, NPR News, Aurora, Colorado. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.