Colorado cinema shooting: Unanswered questions at vigil

A girl places a candle by an American flag during a vigil for those shot at a cinema in Aurora, Colorado (20 July 2012)
Image caption A candlelit vigil was held near the cinema, which was sealed off by police

"Why?" is an obvious question when something so horrific and senseless tears open your community. And in the city of Aurora, Colorado, there is no straightforward answer.

At the end of a very long day, religious leaders held a vigil to pray for the dead, and for the recovery of the many injured by a lone gunman.

It was the question everyone wanted the answer to: why did a post-graduate student, a man with no criminal record beyond a speeding fine, with a good upbringing and education, allegedly kill so many people?

James Holmes, 24, was brought up in California and had no military background, but yet had every detail of what the police call tactical equipment.

He wore a ballistic helmet, a flak jacket and gas mask, but also the gloves and breeches you would expect from a Swat team.

And he had the weapons: an assault rifle, shotgun and two Glock handguns - all bought and held legally in Colorado, and all used to such deadly effect.

He looked so much like one of the characters in the sell-out Batman movie being shown early on Friday that people thought he was part of the show - a first-night stunt - until he threw a gas cylinder and began firing.

'Shy and reserved'

There have been some horrific accounts of the panic in the theatre when he fired on a packed crowd who stumbled over each other to escape the hundreds of bullets.

Children - even toddlers - were among the injured.

People who had excitedly gone to the first midnight showing of the summer blockbuster were left with gruesome images they will never forget.

A friend of James Holmes who spoke to the BBC, but wished to remain anonymous, described him as "shy and reserved" as he recalled their trip together to see the very first of the blockbuster Batman movies.

This time James Holmes again bought a ticket, but half an hour into the film stepped outside to change and returned with the high-powered weapons.

He was arrested quickly and with little incident at the back of the cinema near his car - he told police it was booby-trapped, as was his apartment.

The car was clear, but the flat was rigged with what appeared to be explosive devices and trip wires.

The neighbours were evacuated from their homes and efforts to make the area safe will continue on Saturday.

Hard to comprehend

At the vigil - the first of many chances the local community will have to gather - people of all religions heard from a cross-section of preachers.

Image caption People left messages at the makeshift memorial

Keane Abraham, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran described how his 17-year-old niece Valeria had been shot in the back - the bullet passing through her chest.

She had just been moved out of the intensive care ward, but was still seriously ill, he said.

Mr Abraham was angry but he also wanted to know the motivation for the attack.

There was a palpable sense of shock - the gravity of the tragedy still hard to comprehend.

People carried flowers, but did not have a place to put them as police tape still surrounded the cinema.

When the area opens up there will be a focal point for the grief, and on Monday James Holmes will appear in court for the start of a long trial process which may eventually provide the answers everyone is waiting for.