The worst mass shooting in American history

Bill Neely

Former International Editor

A Denver police bomb squad vehicle is pictured outside an apartment building in Aurora Credit: Reuters

Not many people remember George Hennard. And why should we remember the name of a mass murderer?

I remember his name because what he did twenty one years ago horrified me.

It was not long after I arrived in the United States to be ITN's main Correspondent.

We heard of a mass shooting at a restaurant in Killeen,Texas.

By the time I got to Luby's restaurant 23 innocent people were dead and 20 injured.

Hennard had shot himself. It was shocking.

I couldn't comprehend what would lead someone to do that. Who can? It was, for many years the worst mass shooting in US history.

In 2007 it was superceded by a mass killing at the campus of Virginia Tech, where thirty three people were killedand 17 injured by a lone gunman.

That horrific total remains the country's deadliest shooting spree.

But now another massacre takes its place in the horrific annals of American crime.

The man who opened fire at a cinema in Denver during a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises shot 71 people.

Twelve of them are dead, nine critically injured. Most of those shot were young. Many were teenagers. A three month old baby was treated in hospital.

It is therefore the worst mass shooting modern America has seen.

Colorado has some of the most lax gun laws in the United States.

There's no limit to how many guns you can have, even in one visit to the gun shop. There's no ban on assault rifles; no background checks if you buy online. Colorado isn't the most lax state.

It is however the scene of anotorious massacre at a high school called Colombine. Twelve students died, murdered by laughing former students.

Colombine is just seventeen miles from Aurora, the scene of the latest shooting.

James Holmes is seen in this undated handout picture released by The University of Colorado Credit: Reuters

The suspected gunman, James Eaton Holmes, was 24. He arrived at the cinema dressed all in black- much of his body covered in bullet proof and "ballistic" protective clothing. He wore a gas mask.

Many of the survivors thought when he walked in through the door of the cinema that he was part of the show; on the screen there was a gunfight, bullets flying.

When he exploded a gas cannister people thought he was aspecial effects man.

And then he began firing. One woman ducked as he pointed one of his four guns at her; she felt the hot bullet cartridges drop and burn her neck; she smelt the powder as people were shot behind her.

Holmes kept firing for what seemed like ten minutes, as he moved up the aisle of Cinema Nine. He was arrested at his car outside later.

He had used an assault rifle, a pump action shot gun and two Glock pistols. They weren't hard to get.

The Century 16 Theatre where a masked gunman killed 14 people Credit: Reuters

And one other twist. One of the deadin the cinema shooting was Jessica Ghawi.

A junior sports reporter, she had just survived another mass shooting at a shopping mall. That was just seven weeks ago.

She wrote a blog about her fear that day. She went to the latest Batman movie, relaxed with a date.

God only knows what was going through her mind as the shooting started yet again.