Saturday, July 21, 2012

Gunman brings reality attack to cinema goers in Denver

They came for the excitement of the cinematic experience, to immerse themselves in nearly three hours of escapism. But instead the audience who sat down to watch the premier of the new Batman film found themselves living the violence depicted in the movie for real.

While many might dismiss the connections between violence in the cinema and that seen in society, it is hard to ignore the irony behind the events that shattered the peace of Aurora, a district in the Denver metropolis in the United States.

Excitement turns to horror

As the audience waited for the movie to begin there was great anticipation. Some tweeted their excitement from the cinema, boasting to friends. "Movie doesn't start for 20 minutes!" one 22-year-old Jessica Ghawi tweeted at around 23:40 local time. Less than an hour later, she, along with 11 others were lying dead in the Century cinema complex.

Jessica Ghawi, who also goes by the name of Jessica Redfield, had moved to Denver a year earlier to pursue her dream of becoming a sportscaster. Her dreams were however killed off by a mad gunman, who stormed into the showing of The Dark Knight Rises shortly after midnight. A friend announced her death via Twitter and posted a picture saying she would be sadly missed.

Brush with death

The 22-year-old had narrowly missed death or injury only weeks earlier. On the 2nd June an "odd feeling" persuaded her to leave Eaton Mall in Toronto where she had been eating sushi. Moments later a gunman opened fire exactly where she had been sitting. One man was left dead and seven others injured.

"I can't get this odd feeling out of my chest," Jessica wrote later on her blog. "This empty, almost sickening feeling won't go away. I noticed this feeling when I was in the Eaton Center in Toronto just seconds before someone opened fire in the food court. An odd feeling which led me to go outside and unknowingly out of harm's way. It's hard for me to wrap my mind around how a weird feeling saved me from being in the middle of a deadly shooting."

It was a feeling perhaps reflected in the film series Final Destination. But the tragedy that befell Jessica was all too real. The gut feeling that might have forced her to leave the cinema did not return.

Blur between fantasy & reality

The blur between reality and fantasy is perhaps the tipping point for individuals like suspect James Holmes who burst into the cinema and brought the fantasy of Hollywood into an all too real attack on the helpless audience.

Minutes into the move the gunman entered through an emergency exit. Dressed in black, with body armour and a gas mask he began his assault by throwing gas or smoke canisters into the auditorium. The man then proceeded to shoot into the audience using a Remington 12 gauge shotgun, an AR15 assault rifle and two .40 calibre Glock handguns.

At first the audience did not react, perhaps seeing the incident as a publicity stunt. But reality set in and the panic ensued. The suspect marched up the aisle in the stadium-style theatre, picking off those who tried to flee, witnesses said. He hit 71 people, including one who was struck in an adjacent auditorium after a bullet went through the wall. As the gunman exited the theatre, he left behind 12 dead and more than 50 injured. Many victims died in their seats, their bodies not removed until 12 hours after the shooting occurred. Others fled the cinema and were conveyed to hospital in all available vehicles [Telegraph].

12 dead, dozens injured

As he approached his Hyundai vehicle parked nearby, the gunman was challenged by police and he surrendered. He is said to have told police he was "The Joker", Batman's arch enemy in the fictitious storyline [Telegraph].

But this was no joke, and far from fiction. The horror inflicted upon Aurora was unimaginable. Victims ranged from babies to teenagers and those in their mid-twenties. The youngest person shot was only 3 months old while the oldest was 45 years old.  "A baby was shot at point blank range, the family were gathered around screaming," one eyewitness to a local television station. Dozens of people remained in hospital suffering from gunshot wounds.


The film's director Christopher Nolan gave his reaction to the theatre shooting shortly afterwards saying he was devastated by the events that unfolded. "I would not presume to know anything about the victims of the shooting but that they were there last night to watch a movie."

"I believe movies are one of the great American art forms and the shared experience of watching a story unfold on screen is an important and joyful pastime. The movie theatre is my home, and the idea that someone would violate that innocent and hopeful place in such an unbearably savage way is devastating to me. Nothing any of us can say could ever adequately express our feelings for the innocent victims of this appalling crime, but our thoughts are with them and their families."

Warner Brothers also conveyed their condolences and announced that they were cancelling the premier showing of the movie in Paris. President Barack Obama also joined the voices of condemnation of the attack and urged the US to come together "as one American family" [Telegraph / YouTube].

Recriminations likely

The body count in The Dark Knight Rises is significant, and prior to Friday's events in Colorado the film had already raised concerns for the ultra-violent scenes of torture and death that some considered too intense for younger kids [commonsensemedia].

As Aurora comes to terms with the death and mayhem left behind in the wake of James Holmes shooting spree, there will be questions and recriminations. Some will ask how a former medical student became a mass murderer, and whether violence depicted in such Hollywood blockbusters played a part. The shootings will also reopen the debate concerning America's gun laws.

While the ultimate blame falls upon the perpetrator themselves, one should perhaps not shy away from influencing factors and whether deadly weapons should be more tightly controlled.

Reflection on lives lost

In her moving and evocative blog post Jessica Ghawi talked about how her previous brush with death had changed her whole perspective and outlook on life.

"I say all the time that every moment we have to live our life is a blessing," she wrote. "So often I have found myself taking it for granted. Every hug from a family member. Every laugh we share with friends. Even the times of solitude are all blessings. Every second of every day is a gift."

"After Saturday evening, I know I truly understand how blessed I am for each second I am given."

Her friend Peter Burns said, "Lost a very close friend in the shooting last night. [Jessica] came to Denver to pursue career. I'm shaking." Another friend, Natalie Tejeda, wrote, "My friend Jessie Ghawi was killed in the Aurora Shooting - she was an aspiring sportscaster - she will be missed."

Other reports: 2012 Aurora shooting / BBC / Sky News / Daily Mail / Telegraph / NYT OpEd

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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