Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

James Holmes copycat panic grips US Batman movie theatres - three people arrested

Photo combination shows a variety of facial expressions of James E. Holmes during his appearance at Arapahoe County District Court Monday, July 23, 2012, in Centennial, Colo.
James Holmes has dyed his hair a shocking shade of orange (AP/Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office)

At least three people have been arrested at US showings of the new Batman film amid audience fears following the Colorado cinema massacre.

All were accused of making threats during or after watching the film in separate incidents.

Moviegoers in Sierra Visa, Arizona, panicked when a man who appeared drunk was confronted during a showing of the movie. The Cochise County Sheriff's office said it caused "mass hysteria" and about 50 people fled the cinema.

Michael Borboa, 27, was arrested on suspicion of disorderly conduct, and threatening and intimidating.

A Maine man was arrested when he told authorities that he was on his way to shoot a former employer a day after watching "The Dark Knight Rises," state police said.

Timothy Courtois had been stopped for speeding, and a police search of his car found an AK-47 assault weapon, four handguns, ammunition and news clippings about the mass shooting that left 12 people dead early Friday.

In Southern California, a man at an afternoon showing of the film was arrested after witnesses said he made threats and alluded to the Colorado shooting when the show did not start on time.

Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies were called to the cinema complex said 52-year-old Clark Tabor shouted: "I should go off like in Colorado." They said he then asked: "Does anybody have a gun?"

A security guard saw Tabor with a backpack on his knees in the second row, but deputies who searched the bag, the theatre and its surrounding area did not find a weapon.

Despite some jitters over the horrific shooting, moviegoers around the US still flocked to theatres to see the film, which was the final instalment of the phenomenally successful Batman trilogy.

Warner Bros. reported that it brought in 160.9 million dollars (£104 million) over the weekend, making it the third highest opening weekend ever, after "The Avengers" and "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2."

Holmes shuffled into court today with his hands cuffed - the first look the world got of the 24-year-old since last Friday's shooting that left 12 people dead and 58 others injured at a packed midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises.

It was one of the worst mass shootings in recent US history.

Unshaven and appearing dazed, Holmes sat virtually motionless during the hearing, his eyes drooping as the judge advised him of the severity of the case. At one point, Holmes simply closed his eyes. Prosecutors said they did not know if he was being medicated.

Throughout the hearing, he never said a word. His lawyers did all the talking when the judge asked him if he understood his rights.

His demeanour, however, angered the relatives of some of the victims of the shooting. Some stared at him the entire hearing, including Tom Teves, whose son, Alex, was killed in the attack. Mr Teves watched Holmes intently, sizing him up.

"I saw the coward in court today and Alex could have wiped the floor with him without breaking a sweat," said Mr Teves, whose son, a physical therapist, dove to protect his girlfriend.

The court appearance gave millions the chance to scrutinise Holmes's every movement, every flutter of his heavy eyelids and form their opinions.

"It struck me that this is a person who's been through an emotional maelstrom and therefore might be totally wiped out emotionally," said Dr Jeffrey Gardere, an assistant professor of behavioural medicine at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in New York.

Dr Gardere said there could be "a psychotic process going on and we see that being acted out there. Or there might be some sort of malingering going on. In other words, trying to make himself look worse than he actually is. Or maybe a combination of all of those things."



The hearing was the first confirmation that Holmes's hair was coloured. On Friday, there were reports of his hair being red and that he told arresting officers that he was The Joker - Batman's nemesis in the fictional Gotham has brightly-coloured hair.

Investigators found a Batman mask inside his apartment after they finished clearing it of booby traps, a law enforcement official close to the investigation said on Sunday.

Holmes, whom police say donned body armour and was armed with an assault rifle, a shotgun and handguns during the attack, was arrested shortly afterwards.

He is refusing to co-operate, authorities said. They said it could take months to identify a motive.

Holmes, who is being held in isolation at the Arapahoe County detention facility, walked into the courtroom with lawyers and others. He sat down in a jury box, next to one of his lawyers.

His entrance was barely noticeable but relatives of shooting victims leaned forward in their seats to catch their first glimpse of him. Two women held hands tightly, one shook her head. One woman's eyes welled up with tears.

After the hearing, prosecutor Carol Chambers said that "at this point, everyone is interested in a fair trial with a just outcome for everybody involved".

Ms Chambers said earlier her office is considering pursuing the death penalty against Holmes.

She added a decision will be made in consultation with the victims' families.

Her office is responsible for the convictions of two of the three people on Colorado's death row.

Ms Chambers also is the only state district lawyer to seek the death penalty in a case in the last five years, said Michael Radelet, a sociology professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder who tracks death penalty cases.

Yet Colorado uses the death penalty relatively sparingly. There has only been one execution since it was reinstated by the US Supreme Court in 1976. The state legislature fell one vote short of abolishing the death penalty in 2009.

David Sanchez, who waited outside the courthouse during Holmes' hearing, said his pregnant daughter escaped uninjured but her husband was shot in the head and was in critical condition. His daughter was scheduled to give birth yesterday.

"When it's your own daughter and she escaped death by mere seconds, I want to say it makes you angry," Mr Sanchez said. He said his daughter, 21-year-old Katie Medley, and her husband, Caleb, 23, had been waiting for a year to watch the movie.

Asked what punishment Holmes should get if he is convicted, Sanchez said: "I think death is."

At a news conference in San Diego, where Holmes's family lives, their lawyer, Lisa Damiani, refused to answer questions about him and his relationship to the family. She said later: "Everyone's concerned" about the possibility of the death penalty.

Ms Damiani said the suspect's mother had no idea her son was believed to be the gunman who killed a dozen people in a Colorado cinema until she was contacted at her San Diego home by a reporter.

Ms Damiani, reading a statement to reporters from the family, quoted his mother, Arlene Holmes, as saying she first heard of the shooting hours after it occurred, when a reporter for ABC News called her.

When asked if they stood by Holmes, Damiani said, "Yes they do. He's their son."

Holmes is expected to be formally charged next Monday. Holmes is being held on suspicion of first-degree murder, and he could also face additional counts of aggravated assault and weapons violations. Holmes has been assigned a public defender.

Police have said Holmes began buying guns at Denver-area stores nearly two months before Friday's shooting and that he received at least 50 packages in four months.

During a news conference in Philadelphia yesterday, US Attorney General Eric Holder said the government has to think about the issues raised by Holmes's alleged arsenal.

"We have tried to come up with a better system with our instant background checks so that we have the ability to make sure that people who have emotional problems, people who have felony records, other people cannot get access to these kinds of weapons," Mr Holder said.

Holmes's apartment was filled with trip wires, explosive devices and unknown liquids, requiring police, FBI officials and bomb squad technicians to evacuate surrounding buildings while spending most of Saturday disabling the booby traps.

Weeks before, Holmes quit a 35-student PhD course in neuroscience for reasons that are not clear. He had earlier taken an intense oral exam that marks the end of the first year but University of Colorado Denver officials would not say if he passed, citing privacy concerns.

At a news conference, university officials refused to answer questions about Holmes. "To the best of our knowledge at this point, we think we did everything that we should have done," said Donald Elliman, the university chancellor.

Officials also said the school received two suspicious packages yesterday. The first package arrived early in the morning and was slipped under the door at a campus building while it was mostly empty. People were not allowed into the building until the threat was cleared.

The second package was addressed to a person in a separate building and came to the school's central post facility.

Also in June, the owner of a gun range in Byers rejected Holmes's membership application of a "bizarre - guttural, freakish" message on Holmes's voicemail.

As authorities continued to investigate Holmes, Sunday was a day for healing and remembrance in Aurora, with the community holding a prayer vigil and President Barack Obama telling victims' families that "all of America and much of the world is thinking about them".

The shooting was the worst in the US since the November 5 2009 attack at Fort Hood, Texas. An army psychiatrist was charged with killing 13 soldiers and civilians and wounding more than two dozen others.