2012-07-26 / Local & State

Colorado Shooting Suspect Used Internet For Arsenal

By NICHOLAS RICCARDI

ASSOCIATED PRESS

DENVER (AP) – In a world where Amazon can track your next book purchase and you must show ID to buy some allergy medicine, James Holmes spent months stockpiling thousands of bullets and head-to-toe ballistic gear without raising any red flags with authorities.

The suspect in the mass theater shooting availed himself of an unregulated online marketplace that allows consumers to acquire some of the tools of modern warfare as if they were pieces of a new wardrobe. The Internet is awash in sites ranging from BulkAmmo.com, which this weekend listed a sale on a thousand rifle rounds for $335, to eBay, where bidding on one armored special forces helmet has risen to $799.

“We’re different than other cultures,’’ said Dudley Brown, executive director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, which advocates for firearms owners’ rights. “We do allow Americans to possess the accoutrements that our military generally has.’’

Gun rights activists like Brown celebrate that freedom, but even some involved in the trade are troubled by how easily Holmes stocked up for his alleged rampage.

Chad Weinman runs Tactical- Gear.com, which caters to police officers looking to augment their equipment, members of the military who don’t want to wait on permission from the bureaucracy for new combat gear, and hobbyists like survivalists and paintballers. The site receives “thousands’’ of orders daily, sometimes from entire platoons that are about to deploy to war zones.

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 order, Weinman said, didn’t stand out.

“There’s a whole range of consumers who have an appetite for these products, and 99.9 percent of them are law-abiding citizens,’’ Weinman said. But he said that “it makes me sick’’ that Holmes bought material from him. He added that he doesn’t sell guns or ammunition and that he was “shocked’’ at the amount of bullets that Holmes allegedly bought online.

Authorities say all of Holmes’ purchases were legal – and there is no official system to track whether people are stockpiling vast amounts of firepower.

There is no restriction on the sale of bullets in the United States, except for armor-piercing rounds, which can only be bought by law enforcement, said Ginger Colbrun, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Hence the proliferation of Web sites offering Amazon.com-style wish-lists for hollow-point rifle rounds or tracer bullets.

There is a federal law that bars selling body armor to violent felons – which Holmes was not – but it is rarely used because there are is no requirement to check whether purchasers of the material have criminal records, according to Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence.

Over four months, authorities said, Holmes received more than 50 packages at his Aurora apartment and the University of Colorado medical school, where he was studying neuroscience. As the boxes piled up, he began to shop for guns at sporting goods stores – because of the need to pass a background check to buy a firearm, they are still generally bought at brick-and-mortar locations.

On May 22, law enforcement officials said Holmes bought a Glock pistol. Less than a week later, he upgraded to a shotgun. The following week he bought an AR-15 rifle, versions of which had been outlawed under the assault weapon ban in 1994. But that prohibition expired in 2004 and Congress, in a nod to the political clout of gun enthusiasts, did not renew it.

Holmes also acquired explosive materials and equipment to rig his entire apartment with a complex series of booby traps that took authorities days to dismantle. Officials have not said how he obtained the material for the devices.

Holmes capped off his gun purchases with another pistol on July 7. Authorities say that, 12 days later, Holmes bought a ticket to the midnight premiere of the Batman movie “The Dark Knight Rises’’ and entered the theater with the crowd, then slipped out the side door and returned dressed for battle.

Some moviegoers said they thought Friday’s attack was part of the show. Then they saw a silhouette of a person in the smoke at the front of the theater, pointing a gun at the crowd.

“There were bullet (casings) just falling on my head. They were burning my forehead,” Jennifer Seeger said, adding that the gunman, dressed like a SWAT team member, fired steadily except when he stopped to reload.

“Every few seconds it was just boom, boom, boom,” Seeger said. “He would reload and shoot and anyone who would try to leave would just get killed.”

Some of the injured were children, with the youngest a 4- month-old baby who has been released from treatment. Victims were treated for chemical exposure apparently related to canisters thrown by the gunman.

“The Dark Knight Rises” is one of the most highly anticipated films of the summer. The movie opened across the world Friday, but the shooting prompted officials to cancel the Paris premiere, with workers pulling down the red carpet display at a theater on the famed Champs-Elysees Avenue.

FBI spokesman Jason Pack said there was no indication in the investigation so far of any connection to terror groups.

President Barack Obama said he was saddened by the “horrific and tragic shooting,” and he cut short campaigning to return to the White House.

Moviegoers spoke of their terror as violence erupted.

The gunman released a gas that smelled like pepper spray from a green canister with a tag on it, Seeger said.

“I thought it was showmanship. I didn’t think it was real,” she said.

Seeger said she was in the second row when the gunman pointed a gun at her face. At first, “I was just a deer in headlights. I didn’t know what to do,” she said. Then she ducked to the ground as the gunman shot people seated behind her.

She said she began crawling toward an exit when she saw a girl about 14 years old “lying lifeless on the stairs.” She saw a man with a bullet wound in his back and tried to check his pulse, but “I had to go. I was going to get shot.”

Witness Shayla Roeder said she saw a young teenage girl on the ground bleeding outside the theater. “She just had this horrible look in her eyes .... We made eye contact and I could tell she was not all right,” Roeder said.

Amid the continuing investigation of Holmes and his background, Sunday was a day for healing and remembrance in Aurora, with the community holding a prayer vigil and President Obama telling victims’ families that “all of America and much of the world is thinking about them.’’

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