Aurora Shooting Dispatch Recording Analysis

An examination of the dispatch recording for the July 20, 2012, Aurora, CO theater mass shooting event.


At the 13:35 mark a unit calls for ambulances to the back of the theater in the "old Sports Authority lot." Recognize how much communication has occurred on where EMS personnel are supposed to be rallying and the frustration that can rise not only in those EMS folks who are being told to go different places but also in the on-scene personnel who have previously delineated rally points for them and a process for evacuating mobile victims. Again, this is unavoidable as officers on scene have to pay attention to what they are doing and will often miss what's coming across the radio.

At the 14:20 mark to Victor units report on scene and ask where they're needed. A unit inside Theater 9 is asking for the movie to be shut off. We might assume that theater personnel would already have done so but we can't take anything for granted.

At the 14:30 mark Lincoln-25 announces the discovery of a rifle magazine inside the theater and alerts all officers to the possibility of an "assault rifle" involved. Note that the officers on scene still don't know that they are dealing with a single shooter and such officer survival information is imperative to share.

At the 14:50 mark Metro-10 requests permission from Lincoln-25 to start transporting victims via patrol vehicles due to a lack of on scene ambulances / medical personnel. Lincoln-25, without any hesitation, gives him permission and a directive: "Yes, load 'em up in cars and get 'em out of here."

At the 15:10 mark a call for an ambulance crew to respond to the inside of Theater 9 is made for a victim who is deemed not movable. Consider that: have your public safety disciplines trained together? Are there protocols in place to escort EMS personnel into an area that has not be confirmed as clear yet?

At the 15:25 mark the dispatcher has asked to know what hospital a victim is being taken to so she can alert the hospital. Lincoln-25 responds directing her to simply alert all local hospitals to be ready. Given that there were 12 killed and 58 more wounded, this is an excellent move on his part. Every hospital emergency room I'm familiar with would be overwhelmed by such a casualty count.

Just prior to the 16 minute mark the radio traffic shows that the officers on scene are still trying to get a perimeter secured. Due to the simple vastness of the scene (the theater complex) this undoubtedly proved to be no easy task and took lots of manpower.

At the 16:10 mark a second call goes out for an EMS crew inside Theater 9 and a directive to get all mobile victims out to the EMS providers.

At the 16:45 mark a call goes out for two officers to be stationed at every exit of the theaters both to assist victims and to be alert for anyone who might be armed.

At the 17:25 mark an officer calls out information about the rifle used, specifying it as a 5.56mm weapon. His voice sounds so stressed that the dispatcher asks him if he needs rescue (EMS) as well. He responds, "No," but his voice does sound stressed and the dispatcher's concern makes sense.

At the 17:45 mark Cruiser-49 calls out that he's finding/contacting witnesses who saw the whole event and he encourages officers on scene to continue to ask exiting movie viewers what they saw. It is an unavoidable characteristic of performance that responding personnel will focus on what they have the most experience in. Investigators might focus on witnesses and holding them to get statements. Tactical officers might focus more on multiple perimeters, entry, clearance, etc. Officers with minimal experience may simply feel awash in an ocean of circumstance, finding themselves simply trying to do whatever comes to mind in compliance with whatever training they can recall.

At the 18:00 mark there is radio traffic delineating what exit from the theater complex is clear. In previous active shooter events we've seen circumstances unfold where responding police and EMS units so blocked roadways with their vehicles that they couldn't get away from the scene to get victims to a hospital. This radio traffic delineates a clear exit from the scene and out to get to a local hospital.

At the 18:20 mark a question is asked about whether or not any officers have been "upstairs" in the theater yet. The response comes back that officers are "working on it now." Keep that in mind: almost 20 minutes into this event and the officers on scene are still not sure that the scene is clear of further threat.

At the 18:50 mark Lincoln-25 reminds all officers on scenes that there are open spaces behind the theater screens that have to be checked. The obvious concern is that more shooters could be behind those screens ready to shoot into the theaters at responding officers or not-yet-evacuated civilians.

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