At the midnight opening of Batman, The Dark Knight Rises at a theatre in Aurora, Colorado the Joker appeared! The audience lost all interest in the movie. Initially, the moviegoers were seated in anticipation of the role to be taken by the Caped Crusader to thwart evil. The excitement of the moment was replaced by fear. The desire to be in attendance was replaced by a wanton need to escape. An “Active Shooter” emerged, in the role of the Joker!   Later, police learned that the shooter wore his red hair in tribute to the Joker, an arch rival of Batman.

In the end, the shooter slaughtered people needlessly much like the Joker himself in the “Black Night” graphic novel.  I have given a great deal of thought about this Active Shooter Incident (ASI). What could be more hideous than the Joker, dressed in dark tactical gear emerging to greet the audience with death as the audience awaits the arrival of Batman to thwart all evil?

The shooting was not the beginning of things to come.   In actuality, the shooting was the very end of a series of actions.  Experts have identified five phases of the Active Shooter. The final stage is when the killing begins. This incident set a new precedent. In the past, it was Columbine, which gave birth to the concept of the First Responder program. Since that day, officers have been trained to take immediate action to overcome the report of an ASI.

On Friday, an active shooter acting out for his own delight with the mindset of the Joker initiated a plan far more involved than a traditional ASI. In Aurora, the Joker created a sophisticated setup of bombs, accelerants, and trip wires within his apartment. The shooter took these steps to lure emergency services personnel to an explosion from his apartment. Why did he do this? He simply was buying time to kill. If your intent is to massacre people, is it not best to ensure all emergency services is slowed down or misdirected? It is a horrible thought, but it fits the mindset of the Joker!

The Joker coordinated the stereo system in his apartment to play loud deafening techno music preceding the Joker showing himself within the theatre. The Joker could not take action. He had to wait for the police to be drawn to his apartment on a noise complaint. The Joker created a scenario which he believed would guarantee a law enforcement response at residence.

Reportedly, the bombs in place were intricate and ready to be activated with the opening of the Joker’s apartment door. The Joker, in his twisted thoughts was not primarily focused on killing his fellow residents. Yet, he treated them as sacrificial lambs. The Joker awaited the police to arrive at his residence. Once his apartment was entered, there would be an immense explosion. The Joker hoped to create a scenario in which it was highly likely emergency services would be at his address due to a massive explosion. As this occurred, he would begin killing at the theatre without interference.

The explosion, had it occurred would have been extensive. Bomb personnel worked until Saturday to address and defeat a very intricate and complex system in place. Not only was the building evacuated; the police established a four-block perimeter to protect the public.

The Third Phase of the Active Shooter is Preparation. The Joker long worked at his plan. As of this writing all the accelerants and bombs within his apartment are yet to be identified. The Joker dedicated a good amount of time gathering needed items and material to set off an explosion at his residence as well as ensuring he was armed and ready to complete the task of shooting people at the theatre.

The Joker made his move when he rigged his apartment to explode and then played the loud music to draw a response from the police. The Dark Knight Rises opened at midnight The Joker waited 30 minutes from the start of the movie to take action.  He chose to wait thirty minutes from the opening of the movie for the police to arrive at his apartment to set off the bombs awaiting them.

Thankfully, the shooter’s timing didn’t work out as planned. The Aurora Police Department received calls of an ASI prior to the noise complaints. The first responders were en route to the theatre, not a preconceived explosion.

If the police responded initially to the noise complaint, it is quite likely that the Joker would have achieved his preliminary goal, which provided him more time to kill as many people as possible. If this plan worked, can you hear the Joker’s sickening laughter in satisfaction of outsmarting and overcoming law enforcement? I certainly can.

Although there are Five Phases of the Active Shooter, successful intervention is most likely to be possible in the first three phases. During these phases, the Active Shooter is progressing to his goal, but is not prepared to initiate his plan. However, the fourth and fifth phases are the opposite. These are extremely dangerous phases as demonstrated by the Joker. The Fourth Phase is the approach phase. Everything was in place prior to the Joker arriving at the theatre.

The Joker approached the theatre after he rigged his apartment with bombs.  He legally possessed a shotgun, assault rifle, two firearms, ammunition, and tactical gear and a gas mask. Most likely, the two tear gas type grenades utilized by the Joker were products he invented for the demise of others in the theatre. At 12:30 AM, the Joker was ready to kill those in the theatre.

He used an exit door of the theatre to retrieve his arsenal. This was his moment. He passed through the approach phase. He was ready to take action. He entered the Implementation Phase. It was time to kill.

At this point, the Joker first emerged wearing a gas mask as he activated two tear gas type devices. The result was the death of 12 people and the wounding of 59.  Reportedly, individuals helped those shot. These individuals were subject to serious physical injury or death. Unfortunately, it was also reported three men heroically lost their lives protecting their girlfriends. Alex Teves, Matt McQuinn, and Navy veteran Jon Blunk each died taking steps to shield a loved one from being killed.

Police apprehended The Joker in the parking lot of the theatre after police arrived.   He did not resist. He simply identified himself as the Joker when asked his name.  He advised that there was a bomb at his apartment.

Why did he make this information known? In my mind, he did so because his deed was done. He shot down and killed an audience in much the same manner the Joker did in the “Dark Knight” novel. There no longer was a need to cause an explosion elsewhere. The Joker never did that in the “Dark Knight” novel thus, the people in and about the shooter’s apartment, complex no longer were needed as prey.

This ASI is much like a twisted form of Swatting. Create a true emergency elsewhere and once emergency services are preoccupied, then initiate an ASI elsewhere. This is a troubling outgrowth of an Active Shooter to a new level of evil, violence and diversionary techniques to create two scenes.   Law enforcement experts in ASI’s must monitor this new trend.

The Planning Stage is the second level of the Active Shooter. The Active shooter is beginning to take action.  The shooter is making decisions about targets, as well as the when, where, and hows of the incident. An individual planning an Active Shooter Incident (ASI) may research topics on a computer or even write about the justification of such action.

The first stage of an active shooter is Fantasy.   This stage is considered harmless because it is comprised of thoughts about things, which are imaginary and unreal. In this particular incident, it appears the shooter’s imagination was to create a scenario permitting him to act out much like the Joker.

The question at this time is. How did this begin? It appears the Joker was of sound mind when he graduated from high school in San Diego, CA. Upon graduation, he attended the neuroscience program at the University of California. He graduated at the top of his class in 2010 as an honors student.

The Joker then attended the University of Colorado. For reasons, we do not yet understand, the Joker was withdrawing from the school. We have a highly educated, well-motivated, intelligent, and successful young man considered to be among the top of his class now actively withdrawing.  This time frame is of high concern because there is a distinct change in his life.

I mentioned the Five Phases of the Active Shooter as they occurred in this incident. Family members, educators, friends, and acquaintances are best able to possible notice a person at the earlier stages. The Five Stages of an Active Shooter as introduced by Lt. Dan Marcou are:






I did not name the shooter in this article. The law enforcement agencies with jurisdiction over this matter have already done so as is required. The community was reassured by law enforcement officials the carnage is over. There is no further need to identify the shooter by name. He will be identified by his role. The shooter does not deserve the honor of being named or recognized.

Jim Gaffney, MPA is LET’s risk management /police administration contributor.  He has served with a metro-New York police department for over 25 years in varying capacities including patrol officer, sergeant, lieutenant, and executive officer. He is an ILEETA, ICAP, and IACSP member. Jim mentors the next generation of LEO’s by teaching university-level criminal justice courses as an adjunct professor in the New York City area.

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