AURORA, CO — Even five years later, July 20, 2012 is a date that still inspires fear in moviegoers. Think about it — who hasn’t sat in a theater since that horrific mass shooting at a midnight debut screening of the Batman sequel The Dark Knight Rises and wondered, “Could it happen here?”
Prior to entering the Century 16 theater in Aurora, Colorado, 22-year-old James Eagen Holmes had dyed his hair fluorescent red and referred to himself as “The Joker,” in reference to the Batman villain (as portrayed iconically by Heath Ledger in 2008’s The Dark Knight).
About 20 minutes into the sold-out show, the heavily armed, tactically dressed Holmes stormed the audience and opened fire. He also threw tear gas bombs. Many survivors reported thinking it was a prank or perhaps a special-effects stunt meant to promote the film. How tragically wrong they were.
In the course of the attack, Holmes fired 76 shots — five from a .40-caliber handgun, six from a 12-gauge shotgun, and 65 from a Smith & Wesson M&P15 semi-automatic rifle. He killed 12 and injured 70, creating the highest casualty single mass shooter event in American history up until the 2016 assault on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
Police arrested Holmes without incident next to the theater. The following day, a bomb squad dismantled a series of homemade explosives he had rigged to go off inside his apartment.
At his trial, Holmes attempted to plead not guilty by reason of insanity. It didn’t fly. Prosecutors pushed for the death penalty, but the jury could not reach a unanimous decision.
Instead, Holmes received 12 consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole for each life he took, plus multiple sentences, including 70 counts of attempted murder, for all his other charges. In total, that added another 3,318 years to his prison stretch.
Movie theaters around the world beefed up security following the Aurora nightmare, fearing copycat killers. Other “Joker” obsessives did end up committing crimes, some of them genuinely atrocious, although no one has emulated the theater setting … so far. Here are five examples.
1. “Joker” Stabs Babies and Caregiver to Death in Belgian Nursery Attack
DENDERMONDE, BELGIUM — Kim De Gelder, 29, snuck into an infant day-care facility on January 23, 2009. He wore black-and-white face paint and a wild red wig in the manner of the Joker character and, perhaps more specifically, that of Aurora shooter James Holmes.
In a flash, De Gelder ran from room to room with a knife drawn, stabbing anyone he could reach. By the time he ran back outside and escaped on a bicycle, De Gelder had severely mutilated six babies, injured another four, and knifed five adults — in addition to killing Lone Garcia Mannaert, age eight months; Coneel Vermeir, age nine months; and employee Marita Bindeman, age 54.
When police nabbed De Gelder later that day, he had a list of other nurseries in his pocket. It’s believed he was planning to attack those as well. Friends say De Gelder was obsessed with the Dark Knight films. Witnesses also report him quoting the Batman villain Two-Face just prior to striking. De Gelder is presently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. [Telegraph]
2. Mr. and Mrs. Joker: Jerad Miller and Amanda Miller Shoot Up Las Vegas
LAS VEGAS, NV — Married anti-government radicals Jerad Miller, 31, and Amanda Miller, 22, had long espoused their extremist views via social-media posts and You Tube videos, including some in which they dressed as The Joker and Harley Quinn.
On June 8, 2014, the Las Vegas couple entered a local CiCi’s Pizza restaurant, whipped out firearms, and executed Officer Igor Soldo, 31; and Alyn Beck, 41; two LVPD officers who were on their lunch break.
Upon fleeing to a nearby Walmart, Jerad fatally shot Joseph Robert Wilcox, 41, a shopper who had produced his own weapon to intervene. Responding officers engaged in a gunfight with the Millers inside the evacuated store. It ended with cops mortally wounding Jerad, and Amanda blowing her own brains out. [Las Vegas Sun]
SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK, VA — When police gunned down Army Spc. Christopher Lanum on March 12, 2009 — shortly after he stabbed a fellow soldier at Fort Eustis — the suspect was not in his proper military uniform. Instead, he was dressed as The Joker. He also had a loaded shotgun pointed at the officers.
According to Spc. Mitchell Stone, Lanum’s suite mate at the Fort, Lanum had been wearing the Joker get-up, complete with face-paint, when they had an argument earlier that day. Lanum responded by knifing Stone and blasting him with a stun gun before fleeing in a mini-van. Lanum’s girlfriend, Patsy Montowski, took off with the criminally cracked clown.
A park ranger spotted Lanum’s van several hours later and alerted the authorities. After officers stopped the vehicle, Lanum reportedly gave his shotgun to Montowski and asked her to finish him. When she refused, he turned the weapon on the policeman and refused to comply with orders to drop it, thereby committing “suicide by cop.” [The Guardian]
DUBLIN, IRELAND — Back in 2009, 17-year-old Christopher Clancy reportedly attempted to combat the “hypocrites” in charge of Colaiste Chillian High School, from which he had dropped out five months earlier, by torching the building.
On May 20, Clancy is said to have used wire cutters to break into the unoccupied school, where he spread a can of gasoline throughout a hallway, and lit it up. Witnesses who saw Clancy sprint away from the flames described him as being clad in “a purple suit, with green hair, a white face, and red painted lips.”
Clancy also allegedly told a friend, “I am glad I did it, because the people will realize they can’t treat students as sub-human.”
A Dublin court recognized Clancy’s youthfulness and that it seemed to be a “one-off” offense. A judge ordered him to undergo psychiatric counseling. [Irish Independent]
WINCHESTER, VA — Understandably freaked-out passersby alerted local police to the presence of a man wandering around a shopping area while dressed in full Joker regalia on March 25, 2017. Many witnesses also said the suspect had on a cape and was carrying a sword.
The Joker in question turned out to be Jeremy Putman, 31. Police picked him up and charged him with wearing a mask in public, a Class 6 Felony that’s punishable by up to five years in jail — and that’s no joke! [New York Daily News]
Main photo: James Holmes [Aurora Police Department]