EUGENE, Ore. (KMTR) - Local first responders provide insight in light of Aurora, Colorado's tragic shooting Thursday night.
A gunman, identified as 24-year-old James Holmes - a former medical student at the University of Colorado - opened fire in a packed movie theater during the midnight showing of 'Batman: The Dark Knight Rises'. He killed twelve and injured 59 people.
Holmes was arrested shortly after the shooting occurred; he was near his car in a parking lot behind the theater when he was taken into custody. He was carrying three weapons, including a .223 caliber Smith & Wesson assault rifle, which had a drum-style magazine with the capacity to hold 100 rounds, a Remington 12-gauge shot gun and a .40 Glock handgun. In a press conference Friday, police stressed are continuing to investigate and do not yet know a motive.
When investigators went to Holmes' apartment, they found it booby-trapped with incendiary and small improvised explosive devices.
Witnesses in the theater said the gunman first set off two gas canisters, making it difficult to breathe. He then began shooting into the crowd at random, wearing all-black protective clothing he had donned after entering the theater.
Many people nationwide have since expressed concern about going to a movie theater with light security, saying this type of event could occur anywhere in the country at anytime.
If a shooter were to open fire, police would typically be the first to respond and secure the scene. Eugene Police told NewsSource 16 that they cannot comment on the tactics they would use; however, it would likely take a few minutes for officers to arrive on the scene.
"It's those precious moments that are so imperative to survival," said Lieutenant Sam Kamkar with the Eugene Police Department. "Most people have the instinct to run and huddle together - safety in numbers."
But in fact, he said, that is not at all what one should do. It is easy for a gunman to aim at one large target rather than many smaller marks and for that reason, people should know where the nearest exits are and run away as fast as possible, meeting later in a safe, secured location.
"Be prepared," Lieutenant Kamkar insisted. "If they're going out with their family to a movie theater or to watch a ballgame, it doesn't matter. Talk about it in advance. You know, 'what am I going to do if shots are fired', 'who's going to grab the little kid', 'who is going to grab the older kid', 'which way are we going to go'."
Holmes not only shot adults, but also teenagers and children who were in the theater. Kamkar said parents should advise their children what to do if they are not around. He also stressed the mentality of a person is very important.
"Have the mentality 'I am going to survive'," he said.
While police work closely with security agencies across the county, Lieutenant Kamkar said a majority of security guards found at a mall or movie theater are not armed. They, too, rely on police.
Police often train in various venues with other agencies, county- and city-wide. They work with fire departments and emergency medical service (EMS) responders as well.
Eugene Fire & EMS Department told NewsSource 16 there are already lessons to take into consideration to expand their training for a mass casualty event.
In such a situation, the fire incident commander would take charge and determine how many people have been injured. He / she would then delegate emergency team distribution and call in more resources if necessary. The goal, according to Deputy Chief Randy Dewitt is to help whomever is hurt the worst first.
Dewitt said responding to a mass casualty shooting in a movie theater is not a scenario that they have specifically considered, but there has been a coordinated inter-agency effort to do large-scale training exercises annually. The most recent took place with the National Guard near the University of Oregon campus before the 2012 track-and-field trials at Hayward Field.
"There's innumerous locations with a large number of people can gather. The emphasis would be on number one, just scene control and deal with the number of patients we can find," said Dewitt. "We do prepare for large-scale incidents; we hope they never happen, but reality is is that they are going to happen and we want to be ready."
Eugene and Springfield emergency responders are prepared to help in a possible situation due to concerts and sporting events taking place in Eugene on a regular basis.
Another concern resulting from a mass casualty incident is local medical resources. In Aurora, Colorado, those hurt in the shooting are in the hands of Denver area hospitals.
Locally, Riverbend and McKenzie-Willamette Hospitals report they have a plan in place to deal with something similar. They told NewsSource 16 the hospitals would likely divide up the number of patients. In fact, they responded in such a manner following the 1998 Thurston High School shooting.
Riverbend is known as a Level Two trauma center, regionally serving eight counties for virtually every type of medical treatment, except burns and transplants. Many staff members have history in the community and remember the lessons they learned from the Thurston shooting. Vice President of Patient Care at PeaceHealth, Tim Hermann was the chief nurse in the ER in 1998. He said during that time the partnerships were critical.
"We're very fortunate in our community to have very skilled pre-hospital providers, paramedics that drill with us along the same side and so their ability to triage and control a disaster and respond to a disaster is very comprehensive in our community," said Hermann.
In a disaster similar to what Aurora experienced, local hospitals would be notified almost immediately to prepare triage and call in more staff. Travis Littman, the medical director for trauma at PeaceHealth, said the most critical aspect for paramedics is to determine priority patients.
"Like we saw in Thurston, triage at the scene can really make the difference in how well people do as a whole," Littman said. "We also - as a Level Two trauma center - have layers and layers of surgeons and physicians and emergency personal ready to respond."
Hermann said training-wise, PeaceHealth also took part in a National Guard exercise before the Olympic trials. Simulating a mass casualty situation, doctors and nurses helped treat simulated patients.
PeaceHealth's new CEO Jon Hill also has a connection to the tragedy. Formerly, he was the CEO of an Aurora hospital that took in fifteen patients following the shooting.
Movie theaters in the Eugene-Springfield area each sent statements to the media, expressing their thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims. They stated safety of customers is their top priority and they work closely with law enforcement to ensure that.
The incident, however, has caused concern for movie-goers nationwide, that there may be a lack of security at movie theaters. Dozens of NewsSource 16 viewers offered their feedback, including Kristin Foss Jamison, who said in part, ". . . for me, the movies have always been a good place to go to escape from reality and forget about all of the horrible things going on in the world. Today, that escape has been taken away from people."
Bill Helmer wrote, ". . . it's just another reason to wait until the movies come out on DVD and watch them at home."
Dozens of people said they are sending their thoughts and prayers to Colorado. Others have said it is incidents like the Aurora, Colorado theater shooting that drives the thought of carrying concealed a handgun even more.