First Suits Filed Over Shooting Rampage at 'Dark Knight Rises'


DENVER (CN) - Three moviegoers who were shot at the midnight premiere of "The Dark Knight Rises" say in Federal Court that better security could have prevented the massacre.

Denise Traynom, Brandon Axelrod and Joshua Nowlan, three survivors of the July 20 shooting spree at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater, filed the first two complaints on Friday over the event.

Their complaints against Cinemark USA dba Century 16 Aurora do not name "the gunman," but the strategy of the shooting and its aftermath are described in vivid detail.

James Holmes faces charges of murder and attempted murder for the shooting spree that left 12 dead and 58 injured.

After buying a ticket, the gunman allegedly went in and out of the darkened theater several times, bringing in a "virtual arsenal" from his car outside.

In addition to significant ammunition, body armor and a gas mask, the gunman infiltrated the theater with "fully loaded shotguns, an AR-15 assault rifle, one or more fully loaded, automatic Glock handguns, and several tear gas canisters," his victims say.

"The gunman began his assault by throwing tear gas canisters into the auditorium," according to the complaints, which describe these events identically. "The gunman was still standing near the doorway at the bottom of the theater, to the right of the screen when he began the assault.

"During the incident, the gunman opened fire with various firearms and shot several people. Several individuals in Auditorium 9, and at least one person in Auditorium 8, were struck by gunfire."

Traynom and Axelrod, who sued together, say they tried to duck behind the seats as moviegoers fled. Traynom was shot in the buttocks, and Axelrod hurt his leg in the melee. Nowlan, the plaintiff named in the other complaint, says a bullet nearly severed his right arm and that he was also shot in the left leg.

"After the initial episode where the gunman threw the tear gas cannisters, the gunman continued shooting people for many minutes," the complaints state. "All through the incident, the movie continued to play, and the houselights remained very low or off.

"There was no alarm activated during the many minutes while the gunman was stockpiling his arsenal, and inside the theater shooting people.

"Upon information and belief, there was no action taken by theater employees to safely evacuate the many people left in Auditorium 9."

Nowlan was among many victims who "lay helpless on the ground for many minutes, while the gunman continued shooting people," he says.

"The gunman continued shooting throughout the auditorium until eventually his weapon jammed and the shooting stopped.

"No security personnel and no employee intervened during the entirety of the incident. The gunman simply walked back out of the theater through the same door he used to enter, and sat in his car.

"Even after the gunman left the theater and there was no further gunfire, for many minutes no theater personnel took action to assist the injured who were still in Auditorium 9. It took several minutes for law enforcement to finally arrive. During the entirety of that time, the movie continued playing, and the house lights remained very low or off.

"At no time during the entirety of this incident was there any action taken by theater personnel to assist or evacuate those who were injured by the gunman."

Nowlan says the Aurora Police Department eventually removed him from the theater and was driven to the hospital in a squad car because there were no ambulances available.

He says his injuries have resulted in several surgeries including skin-grafting procedures.

The complaints blame "the lack of security personnel and lack of any alarm on the door at the right, front by the screen of auditorium" for tragic events.

Century 16 also allegedly lacked "surveillance procedures" and other security equipment.

"This failure to monitor those doors in any way made it possible for a person to re-enter the theater without fear of interference, interruption or chance at being discovered," according to the complaint.

Worse yet, "no security personnel and no employee intervened during the entirety of the incident," the victims say.

Despite knowing that the film premier would attract a large crowd, Century 16 had no security guards on hand, according to the complaint.

The theater sometimes hired off-duty local police because of gang shootings and other incidents of violence, but it reserved this security for Friday and Saturday nights, the victims say.

As a midnight premiere, "The Dark Knight Rises" qualified as a Thursday screening.

Traynom, Axelrod and Nowlan seek damages for premises liability and negligence.

They are represented by William Keating with Keating, Wagner, Polidori and Free.

Source: Courthouse News Service