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Police chief: Suspect bought over 6,000 rounds of ammunition through Internet

By Thom Patterson, CNN
July 21, 2012 -- Updated 1537 GMT (2337 HKT)
  • NEW: "It was a pretty rapid pace of fire in that theater," the police chief says
  • NEW: More than 6,000 rounds of ammunition was bought through online purchases, he adds
  • AR-15, Glock handgun and shotgun used in deadly movie attack
  • Expert: Shotgun blast across row of theater seats could kill or wound 15 people

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(CNN) -- Authorities in the Colorado movie theater massacre found an AR-15 rifle drum magazine Friday capable of carrying 100 rounds, and the police chief said thousands of rounds of ammunition for various weapons had been bought online in the weeks prior to the shooting.

Police took suspect James Holmes, 24, into custody Friday after they say he set off two devices and sprayed the theater with bullets from an AR-15, a 12-gauge shotgun and at least one of two .40-caliber handguns police have recovered. Investigators are confident that Holmes acted alone, police said.

Aurora, Colorado, Police Chief Dan Oates said Friday night that Holmes had purchased four guns at "local metro gun shops," and bought over 6,000 rounds of ammunition through online transactions.

Assessing what authorities have pieced together about the shooting and the weapons recovered, Oates told reporters, "As far as we know, it was a pretty rapid pace of fire in that theater."

Life and death decisions within Aurora theater

The public gets its first glimpse of James Holmes, 24, the suspect in the Colorado theater shooting during his initial court appearance Monday, July 23. With his hair dyed reddish-orange, Holmes, here with public defender Tamara Brady, showed little emotion. He is accused of opening fire in a movie theater Friday, July 20, in Aurora, Colorado, killing 12 people and wounding 58 others. More photos: Mourning the victims of the Colorado theater massacre The public gets its first glimpse of James Holmes, 24, the suspect in the Colorado theater shooting during his initial court appearance Monday, July 23. With his hair dyed reddish-orange, Holmes, here with public defender Tamara Brady, showed little emotion. He is accused of opening fire in a movie theater Friday, July 20, in Aurora, Colorado, killing 12 people and wounding 58 others. More photos: Mourning the victims of the Colorado theater massacre
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Chad Weinman, CEO of of Chesterfield, Missouri, told CNN earlier that his company had a receipt matching Holmes' name and his Aurora address.

The receipt showed that Holmes bought an $106.99 Blackhawk urban assault vest, a $52.99 Blackhawk Omega Elite triple pistol magazine, a $52.99 Blackhawk Omega Elite M16 magazine pouch, and a $77.99 Blackhawk Be-Wharned silver knife.

With shipping costs, the total bill came to $306.99, according to a copy of the receipt provided to CNN.

The firm sells equipment to military and police personnel -- as well as weekend warriors, Weinman said.

The gear that the firm believes it sold to Holmes is manufactured by a company called Blackhawk Company, a "popular brand in tactical circles," Weinman said.

"We were pretty shocked to have discovered it," Weinman said.

Families of victims receive tragic confirmation

"Oh, my God, we couldn't believe it" was how one of the company's owners reacted, Weinman said.

Holmes paid for a two-day air delivery when he placed the order on July 2, which would seem to indicate he wanted the materials in a hurry, Weinman said.

Purchasing a 100-round magazine for an AR-15 is unusual, weapons experts said. The AR-15 is designed for easy reloading. "Even without the grand-sized mags, many people who are practiced can reload in 1½ to 2 seconds," said Steven Howard, a Michigan attorney and security and firearms expert.

Howard said a crowded theater offers an ideal location for a gunman -- particularly one armed with a shotgun -- to target dozens of victims. A large room such as a theater -- where people are seated in rows -- makes moviegoers easy targets, even for an inexperienced shooter, Howard said.

Investigators focus on suspect's apartment

Screaming, panicked moviegoers scrambled to escape from the gunman, who wore a gas mask and randomly shot as he walked up the theater's steps, witnesses said.

"The very nature of theaters makes them perfect killing zones," said Howard.

A shotgun would do more damage among a tightly packed theater audience because its ammunition comes out of the weapon in a reverse funnel shape and would disperse across a wider area, according to Howard.

In a theater scenario, he said, "so many people's heads are lined up next to each other that if you fire down these rows of people ... one blast is going to kill or seriously injure 10 or 15 people, depending on a number of variables."

An AR-15 nonmilitary model, Howard said, shoots one bullet at a time and that bullet "may go through two people."

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No weapons expertise would be necessary to execute an attack such as the one in Aurora, said Howard, a former U.S. Border Patrol agent. "Any idiot can do it."

Holmes was apprehended outside his white Hyundai parked in the back of the theater, police said. Three of the weapons were in the car and one was left at the scene inside the theater, said authorities.

Howard offered these details about the weapons police say were used in the attack:

AR-15 rifles come in many different, customizable forms.
AR-15 rifles come in many different, customizable forms.

-- AR-15 rifle: A rifle that commonly fires bullets .223 inches in diameter. Originally manufactured by Colt before its patent ran out, but now also made by others. Cost: around $900 and up. Its military version is a machine gun, which allows a shooter to fire continuously by holding the trigger down. The nonmilitary AR-15 is a semi-automatic which shoots one bullet at a time, with each squeeze of the trigger. Ammunition magazines for the AR-15 commonly hold five to 15 rounds.

Aurora Police Chief Oates said Friday night that investigators had determined the suspect bought more than 3,000 rounds of ammunition for the rifle. As for the 100-round rifle drum and the weapon's firing capability, Oates said he did not know whether the rifle was fully automatic or sem-automatic but "even if it was semi-automatic, I'm told by experts that with that drum magazine, he could've gotten off 50 to 60 rounds ... within one minute."

A 12-gauge 870 Remington shotgun.
A 12-gauge 870 Remington shotgun.

-- 870 Remington 12-gauge shotgun: One of the most popular shotguns in history. It can be modified to have a short or long barrel.

Oates said the suspect had purchased 300 rounds for the shotgun.

-- .40-caliber Glock handgun: Common weapon for police. Similar in size to other popular handguns.

Oates said some 3,000 rounds of ammunition for the two Glocks had been bought through online purchases.

Opinion: Can we feel safe in a crowd anymore?

The attacker also used tear gas in the attack, according to police. Tear gas and smoke bombs would "add to the panic" and make victims less likely to be able to defend themselves against an attacker, Howard said.

The dozens of wounded victims in the attack could well have been hit by ricocheting bullets. "Once bullets hit a wall, they tend to ricochet down a wall, but they don't bounce like pool balls like a lot of people think and like the movies show. They follow the last surface they hit," Howard said.

Carpeted walls, which are common in movie theaters would reduce the risk of ricochets, said ballistics expert Jon Nordsby. Bullets that have first passed through objects such as theater chairs might cause worse wounds. The bullets start tumbling after they first penetrate the object. A tumbling bullet will tear more flesh when it hits, he said.

Gun debate renewed after shooting

Crime scene investigators will likely pay close attention to the location of ammunition shell casings and bullets to learn more details about the attack. They also will likely document the locations where victims fell to determine the trajectory of the bullets.

Share your tributes to the victims on CNN iReport.

CNN's Jake Carpenter and Joe Sutton contributed to this report.

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