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Obama pays tribute to US massacre victims, survivors

23 july 2012, 16:53
0
President Barack Obama paid emotional tribute Sunday to the victims and survivors of the Aurora cinema massacre, as the shaken US town held a tearful vigil for the 12 dead filmgoers, AFP reports.

Obama, making a visit to the stricken Colorado town, said he shed tears with relatives of those who died as the community struggles to recover from Friday's shooting at a screening of the latest Batman movie, which also left 58 injured.

"I confessed to them that words are always inadequate in these types of situations," he said as thousands gathered for a vigil outside the municipal center in Aurora, just outside Denver.

Speaking after visiting with families in hospital, he said he "had the chance to give folks some hugs, and to shed some tears, but also to share some laughs" as families remembered the "wonderful" lives of their loved ones.

The alleged gunman, 24-year-old James Holmes, is accused of bursting into a packed midnight screening of "The Dark Knight Rises" early Friday, throwing two canisters of noxious gas into the crowd, and then shooting at random.

The victims included a six-year-old girl, Veronica Moser-Sullivan, whose mother was also critically wounded.

Shortly after Obama's speech, thousands of locals offered loud rounds of spontaneous applause as police officers, army and other officials came towards a stage for the start of the vigil.

"While our hearts are broken, our community is not," Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan told the crowds, which included many people in tears.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper drew applause when he refused to mention Holmes by name, referring to him only as "suspect A" and insisting that the priority should be to remember the 12 victims.

He then read out their names, after which the crowd said, "We will remember."

Grandmother Genie Hartley, crying, acknowledged that the Second Amendment of the US constitution enshrines the right to bear arms, but said that what happened in Aurora was not about constitutional rights.

"I respect the fact that people have to protect themselves, it's about the second amendment. But what happened in this theater was not about the second amendment, it's about a massacre," she told AFP.

Police revealed on Sunday that they had found Holmes's computer inside his booby-trapped apartment, which could provide crucial details about how he planned and executed the attack, reportedly over a number of months.

Holmes, who is due to make his first court appearance on Monday, is being held in solitary confinement for his own protection, a police spokeswoman said.

It was also reported that Holmes had applied to join a private gun club a few weeks before the shooting, but his paperwork appeared suspicious and he was not approved.

The owner of Lead Valley Range telephoned Holmes shortly after receiving his application on June 25, and was greeted by a "bizarre and creepy" voicemail greeting.

Range owner Glenn Rotkovich said Holmes's voice on the message was "slurring words, but he didn't sound drunk, just strange."

Calls for another look at America's gun laws are mounting in the aftermath of the tragedy as it emerged that the suspect bought his four weapons legally, as well as thousands of rounds of ammunition on the Internet.

Aurora is located 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the scene of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, in which two students shot dead 13 people before committing suicide.

City police chief Dan Oates praised his men for spotting Holmes as a suspect in the "chaos" that followed the shooting, as officers could have mistaken him for an arriving SWAT officer, because of his full body armor.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg -- one of the few high-ranking US politicians that openly favors gun control -- demanded Sunday that both Obama and his Republican presidential rival, Mitt Romney, take action on the issue.

"This really is an enormous problem for the country, and it's up to these two presidential candidates ... They've said things before that they're in favor of banning things like assault weapons," he said.

"Where are they now and why don't they stand up?" asked Bloomberg. "If they want our votes, they'd better."

Meanwhile actress Anne Hathaway became the latest cast member to voice her shock at the killings, after Warner Brothers, the studio behind the new Batman movie, said it was withholding box office data out of respect for the victims.

"My heart aches and breaks for the lives taken and altered by this unfathomably senseless act. I am at a loss for words how to express my sorrow," said Hathaway, who plays Catwoman.

Bomb experts cleared Holmes's apartment of all major explosives threats on Saturday.

CNN and the LA Times cited police sources as saying that a Batman mask and poster were among the contents recovered from the apartment. The Aurora Police Department declined to confirm or deny the report.

Early Sunday, police dismissed media reports that another person, a fellow medical PhD student, had helped Holmes in his killing spree and had called the police, threatening more violence if Holmes was not released.

Authorities said Holmes bought more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition online, as well as four guns in the two months before the rampage.

Police arrested Holmes by his car at the rear of the theater after the shooting. He offered no resistance.

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