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Witnesses recall chaos after gunman bursts into theater

CNN Wire

8:03 AM CDT, July 20, 2012

Aurora, Colo.

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The first witness accounts to surface from a deadly shooting in Aurora, Colorado, painted a surreal picture of what happened inside Theater 9 of Century Aurora movie theater.

Several moviegoers said a man burst into the theater through an exit door near the right side of the movie screen. Dressed all in black, he wore bulletproof vest and a riot or gas mask.

Trey Freeman, was inside the theater, said he first thought the man might somehow be part of the show. The man threw a tear gas canister near where he was sitting -- but the danger did not register with him until the canister exploded.

Then, without saying a word, the man threw a second gas canister, Freeman said in a YouTube video.

"He looked so calm when he did it, it was so scary," he said.

The man in black waited until both gas canisters exploded, Freeman said. Then he started shooting.

He shot into the air first and then turned his gun on the crowd, said Dante Harris, another witness who appeared on the video.

"I thought there was no way I was going to get out of there without getting shot," Freeman said.

At least 12 people were killed and 38 wounded during an early Friday morning screening of the new Batman movie at the theater in Aurora, Colorado.

Cell phone video taken outside the doors of the theater complex showed panicked moviegoers calling out for help or searching for friends.

One man can be seen walking out with assistance, the back of his shirt covered in blood. A woman examines her body, as if checking for wounds.

Alex Milano told CNN affiliate KUSA that he was in the theater near where the shooting took place.

He was also watching the"The Dark Knight Rises,"and there was a shooting scene happening on screen.

"Loud bangs came from the right of the theater. Smoke took over the entire theater, and it was really thick and no one could really see anything," he said.

Confused at first, Milano realized the severity of the incident when he witnessed "objects" starting to come through the wall, presumably bullets.

"I saw holes in the wall," he said.

Some people in his theater started moaning in pain, and alarms at the building started sounding.

Outside, Milano spoke with a woman who was inside Theater 9. What she heard "sounded like madness to me," he said.

The woman described a man, about six feet tall, who kicked in the door and wore a bulletproof vest and a riot helmet and black goggles. The woman told Milano that she saw the shooter slowly making his way up the steps, firing.

One scene stuck in his head -- a police officer carrying a little girl in his arms. The girl wasn't moving.