President Barack Obama headed to Aurora, Colorado, to meet families grieving their losses in Friday’s mass shooting that has stunned the nation and rekindled debate about guns and violence in America.
Special prayers were offered in church services for those who died in the town of 325,000, 20km from the scene of the 1999 Columbine High School student massacre.
“Our culture needs to change,” Father Mauricio Bermudez told a packed mass at the Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Aurora.
“What kind of people are we becoming? Today, we must change. Today is the day.”
The victims, who ranged in age from a girl of six to a man of 51, died when a gunman police identified as graduate-school dropout James Holmes opened fire at a packed midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises.
“We’re still reeling,” Aurora mayor Steve Hogan said at a memorial late on Saturday for one young shooting victim.
A vigil was scheduled for 6.30pm yesterday in front of Aurora City Hall organised by civic community and religious leaders.
Obama’s trip comes as investigators are deepening a probe into Holmes. He was arrested at the multiplex immediately after the shootings and local and federal authorities disarmed explosives in his booby-trapped apartment on Saturday.
Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates said the shooting followed months of “calculation and deliberation”, as Holmes received a “high volume” of deliveries of weaponry to his work and home.
Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, speaking on NBC’s Meet the Press programme, said there were still no clues as to the motive. But he said Holmes was “a twisted, really delusional individual” who had not been co-operating with authorities.
“He was diabolical, demonic,” Hickenlooper said.
“I think of him almost as a terrorist. He wanted to take away — not just from the people here but from the country — our ability to enjoy life.”
On Saturday afternoon, the local coroner’s officer released the names of the 12 people killed, including those of the six-year-old girl, a young man celebrating his 27th birthday and an aspiring sportscaster who had escaped a shooting in a Toronto mall last month.
Those who witnessed the shooting told of a nightmarish scene. For many, it evoked memories of the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, where two students opened fire and killed 12 students and a teacher.
The incident has also reverberated in the US presidential race. Both Obama and his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, toned down their campaigns on Friday, pulled ads from Colorado and dedicated scheduled events to the victims.
In Rome, Pope Benedict XVI expressed dismay and sadness at the shooting.
“I was deeply shocked by the senseless violence which took place in Aurora, Denver,” he said in his regular Sunday Angelus address.
Holmes was arrested in a parking lot behind the cinema after the shooting. He was armed with a Smith & Wesson M&P .223 semi-automatic rifle, similar to an AR-15 assault rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun and a Glock .40-calibre handgun. Police found an additional Glock .40-calibre handgun in his car. All the weapons were legally bought in the previous 60 days.
Authorities said Holmes had dyed his hair red and called himself “The Joker” in a reference to Batman’s comic-book nemesis, was due to make an initial court appearance today at the Arapahoe County Justice Center.
Sources familiar with the investigation said some 30 softball-sized containers filled with gunpowder were discovered in Holmes’s apartment, together with containers filled with “incendiary liquids” intended to fuel a fire from the initial explosions, as well as bullets meant to ricochet around the apartment.
Holmes was being held in solitary confinement.
Little has surfaced from his past to suggest he was capable of such violence.
Until last month, the 24-year-old was studying for a doctoral degree in neuroscience at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical School.