We knew The Dark Knight Rises was going to make headlines for ticket sales Friday morning, but not for this tragic reason: A gas mask-wearing gunman burst into the Century 16 Theaters in a Denver suburb, killing at least a dozen moviegoers as young as age 6.
Reports vary widely, but around 40 people -- including a 3-month-old -- were also injured while watching an action scene during the much-awaited midnight showing of Christopher Nolan's third (and final) film in the Batman series.
Like those flocking to that mall theater in Aurora, Colorado, Batman fans across the country camped out Friday afternoon in anticipation of the midnight debut.
Real-life terror mimics onscreen violence
Particularly chilling, many witnesses reported that the suspect, 24-year-old James Holmes, threw a smoke bomb and started shooting round upon round just as shots were being fired on the big screen.
"It was a shootout scene," Alex Milano told NBC affiliate KUSA-TV, describing a part of the movie where Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) is engaged in a gunfight.
"There were guns firing. Then, loud bangs came from the right of the theater. Smoke took over the entire theater and everything, and it was really thick. No one could really see anything," Milano said.
Milano and others said they thought the real-life shooting was actually part of the movie, or fireworks that a cantankerous moviegoer was shooting off.
"Me and my sister and my friends were wondering what was going on," Milano said. "Then, at that point, I saw something come through the wall. Multiple objects flew through the wall. I saw holes in the wall."
That's when people started to get up and check themselves to see if they'd been shot.
"A couple of people were walking away, holding areas," Milano said. "I heard moaning like they were in pain. That's when I started to get worried."
The show goes on...
Warner Bros. has already issued a statement, and indicated that the red carpet Paris premiere and press interviews, scheduled for Friday night, were not appropriate, given the tragic circumstances.
"Warner Bros. is deeply saddened to learn about this shocking incident," the movie studio said, extending its sympathies to families and loved ones of the victims.
The flick is still expected to shatter box office records for a 2D release.
The Dark Knight Rises has already grossed more than $25 million in advance ticket sales, and is expected to pull upward of $185 million this weekend -- outperforming the second film in Nolan's Batman trilogy -- The Dark Knight.
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