Eyewitness accounts paint horrific portrait of shooting at 'The Dark Knight Rises' screening
"We thought, 'Special effects! Midnight showing! That's awesome. What theater does that any more?'"
That was Alex Milano's first thought when smoke began to flow into his theater during a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises. It all happened during a shoot-out scene in the movie, so the loud bangs he heard just seemed like part of the act.
But then it didn't stop. Bullets came whizzing through the walls and panic replaced the good cheer.
When it was all over, 59 were wounded and at least 12 were dead. Here, the eyewitnesses tell the story for themselves:
Milano was still sporting his Batman t-shirt as he spoke to Denver's KUSA 9News, just outside the Century 16 theater in Aurora, Colo.
He was in Theater 8's 12:01 showing, while the gunman unleashed brutal attack on unarmed moviegoers in the screening room next door.
"We were watching a scene in the movie, it was a shootout scene there were guns firing. And then loud bangs came from the right of the theater. Smoke took over the entire theater, and was really thick. No one could see anything," Milano told 9News reporter Brandon Rittiman.
"I saw something come through the wall, multiple objects flow through the wall," Milano went on. "People stood up and started checking themselves. I heard moaning like they were in pain. That's when I started to get worried. We didn't really know something was happening. Until someone came form the left entrance and said we shouldn't go outside because there was a man with a gun out there."
Another witness, (pictured right) whose name was not used by 9News, described the scene inside Theater 9, where the attack took place.
"The door swings back open and a guy walks in dressed all in black. Helmet. Gas mask. Black armor suit. Everything. Something went off behind me."
That was the gas canister.
"It got harder to breathe and [within] less than two seconds of it going off, the gunshots started happening.
"As soon as the gas cans went off I immediately hit the floor. The people ahead of me got down to the floor as well. I was trying to help guide them out, to steadily crawl our way out. Trying not to make a lot of noise.
"There were still gunshots going on. It wasn't repeated fire. It was just a single shot at a time.
"Once it got to the point where it started quieting down … We got out and ran for it."
Another theater-goer, Jennifer Seeger described being in the gunman's sights as gas began to fill the room.
First, he shot a round into the ceiling. "Then he went from here, to here," she said, bringing her own arm down. "And he just pointed the gun at me."
"I was terrified, so I just dove into the aisle. At that point he started shooting people behind me. I had [shell casings] that were on my forehead, burning my forehead, and I told myself, 'I need to get out of here,'" she told reporter Suzanne McCarroll of CBS affiliate KCNC.
"I crawled on the ground and I just laid in a ball and waited for him to go up the stairs," Seeger said. "At that point, I was trying to crawl out but then everybody was crawling back in and they're saying, 'Don't go over there. He's going to shoot everybody that's trying to get out of the main doors,' and he was. All I hear is gunshot after gunshot. And just women and children are screaming."
"I don't know exactly what kind of gun it was, it was just a big rifle . . . I smelled gunfire in the air. I was just terrified. The gas was getting to me. I was having a hard time breathing."
Although there was explosive action on screen in the neighboring screen, Chris Jones, who sent a photo of his ticket stub to ABC's KMGH 7News, said a quiet scene was actually playing in the theater where the attack began.
"We were maybe a good 20 or 30 minutes into the movie," he told the news channel in a phone interview. "First you smell smoke, and everybody thought it was fireworks or something like that. Then you see people start dropping. The gunshots were constant. I heard at least 20 to 30 rounds within that minute or two.
"I was with a couple co-workers and we were just on the floor, praying to God we don't get shot.
"The gunshots continue to go on and on, and then after we didn't hear anything, we finally got up. There were people bleeding. And people who may actually have been dead. We just ran up out of there.
"The lights never came on," Jones said. "Once the shooting cleared, we just ran — ran up to the top of the theater. And once we got outside, you could just see it was chaos.
"Like a movie," he added.