Just after midnight on July 21, moviegoers and responders in Aurora, Colo., were subjected to real-life horror and chaos when a heavily armed gunman dressed in full body armor exited and returned via a rigged door during a premiere showing of the latest Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises” and fired on the packed audience. The gunman killed 12 people and wounded 58 others.
It was a horrific event, complicated by many factors: the early morning time, a dark environment both inside and outside the theater, and the presence of a chemical agent designed to debilitate the victims and make easier, less resistive targets. Not to mention the incident also involved the panicked and chaotic exodus of hundreds of moviegoers—many with serious injuries—who fled, in all directions not only from the fully packed room, but also into other nearby rooms, hallways and concession areas.
Many horribly injured victims who fled from a multitude of exits sought help from the first public safety personnel they could find. In many cases, the first person of contact was a police officer. Although EMS and fire resources were on the scene and still responding, the multitude of factors presented above didn’t allow for a standard mass casualty incident (MCI) set up and action plan.
A gag order by the judge overseeing the legal aspects of this case has limited the release of information about the incident and ability of responders to tell their side of the story. So it’s frustrating to read newspaper accounts and challenges about the way the Aurora Fire Department and their contracted ambulance provider, Rural/Metro Corporation, responded, treated and transported patients. The local media has been critical of the seemingly short supply of ambulances during the first 30 minutes of the incident. And much has also been written about the police transporting victims rapidly from the scene to definitive care.
Any seasoned responder who has arrived on scene at an MCI knows that even under the best of conditions, a mass exodus of the injured and uninjured from an incident can be difficult to manage. Sorting out the injured in a dark parking lot and at multiple exit points is a complex task. The rapid transportation of victims from that scene with critical penetrating and exsanguinating gunshot wounds in police vehicles may in fact turn out to be a key lifesaving effort—as it was when President Ronald Reagan was shot in Washington, D.C. and rapidly transported to a trauma center in his limousine.
JEMS will report on this major incident when appropriate clearances are received. Until then, don’t prejudge our colleagues in Aurora.