AURORA, Colo. - An eager audience forgoing sleep to take in the midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises" instead were witnesses Friday to a bloody mass shooting at a suburban Denver movie theater. Police said a man clad in black threw a canister that spewed smoke before he opened fire.
Witnesses said that at first, they thought it was a prank or a stunt. Then the gunman shot steadily at the audience, not speaking. Some of their accounts:
Jennifer Seeger, 25, from Aurora said she was in the second row, about four feet from the gunman, when he pointed a gun at her face.
At first, "I was just a deer in headlights. I didn't know what to do," she said. Then she ducked to the ground.
The gunman shot people seated behind her.
"There were bullet (casings) just falling on my head. They were burning my forehead," Seeger said.
The gunman fired steadily except when he stopped to reload.
"Every few seconds it was just `Boom, boom, boom,'" she said.
"He would reload and shoot, and anyone who would try to leave would just get killed," she said.
Seeger said she began crawling toward an exit when she saw a girl about 14 years old, "lying lifeless on the stairs."
She saw a man with a bullet wound in his back and tried to check his pulse, but "I had to go. I was going to get shot."
"I thought it was showmanship. I didn't think it was real," she said.
Sylvana Guillen, 20, said when a man appeared at the front of the theater clad in dark clothing looking like a SWAT team member as Catwoman made an appearance in the movie, the audience "thought it was a joke, a hoax."
Then they heard gunshots and smelled smoke from a canister he was carrying, and Guillen knew it was real.
The gunman began walking toward the seats and firing. Guillen said she told her friend, Misha Mostashiry, "You better get ready to be shot."
Mostashiry, also 20, said they couldn't tell where the gunman was.
"All you could do is hope he didn't come for you," she said.
"We ran to the emergency exit and nothing happened. Nothing happened to us," Mostashiry said, with surprise and relief in her voice.
On their dash to the exit, they saw a man slip in the blood of a wounded woman he was trying to help.
Tanner Coon told the NBC "Today" show he was at the movie with a friend and his friend's 12-year-old brother when about 20 minutes into the movie the gunman appeared. Coon said that when they realized they were being shot at, they got on the floor in front of their seats.
After "a period of quiet" everyone started to run out.
He said he went to a row behind him and "slipped on some blood and landed" on a woman. He said he shook her, telling her they needed to get out, but she was unresponsive and he "presumed she was dead." He said the 12-year-old was "freaking out" and "really upset" after they escaped the theater.
Jaime Marshall, 23, said she had tickets to theater 9, where the gunman opened fire, but had decided before the movie to watch next door in theater 8 with friends.
She said that about 20 minutes in, as a shooting scene played out on the screen, she heard "fire cracker" sounds, and thought someone might be playing a joke. Marshall said people started leaving en masse and the alarm system started blaring. Marshall said she and her friends just sat there confused until someone ran in and told people not to go into the lobby because "someone's shooting people out there."
She said she wasn't sure if it was a prank, but the group decided to leave. Marshall said that as she made her way out of the theater, she saw a girl with a gunshot wound to her leg.
Moviegoer William Kent told CBS "This Morning" he was in theater 8, next door to the theater where the shooting happened.
"There was a lot going on in the soundtrack of the movie at that time. So in the beginning, I don't think people realized what was happening," he said.
Kent said he saw pieces of the wall fall out, apparently as shots came through, and the emergency alarm went off. The theater told people to leave.
"There was huge commotion to get out of the theater and when I exited, there were police with assault rifles running in."
"I went out to enjoy a movie and I ended up in a gruesome thing. I don't know how you would qualify it. I think it seems like a terrorist act."
Nichole Griek said her 13- and 14-year-old daughters were in the theater when they saw a man dressed in black and wearing a mask step out of the shadows at the front of the theater. They thought he was part of the movie presentation, before he threw out a canister that started smoking and opened fire.
Griek's daughters and their friends bolted from the theater, leaving behind their cell phones, shoes and other belongings. Griek's daughters were unhurt.
"You'd think you'd be able to drop your kid off at the movie theaters, but you can't," she said.
Chandler Brannon tells ABC's "Good Morning America" he was in the theater with his girlfriend when he saw smoke and heard popping sounds that he at first believed were