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Aurora, Colorado marks five-year anniversary of theater massacre

AURORA, Col. (Reuters) - A somber crowd marked the fifth anniversary early on Thursday of a shooting rampage at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado that left 12 people dead and 70 injured.

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About 100 family and community members and friends gathered outside Aurora’s city hall to remember the victims and first responders with a solemn candlelight vigil and procession. Many wept softly as they released white balloons into the night sky or wrote tributes on small wooden crosses.

“The thing I see after five years is the resilience of this community,” said Aurora Police Department’s Jad Lanigan, who was the incident commander at the scene of the July 20, 2012 shooting. “In Colorado we’ve had our fair share of tragedies but we always bounce back.”

Some 400 exuberant moviegoers had packed into the Century 16 movie theater in the Denver suburb for a midnight screening of Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises” that quickly turned to horror when a gunman opened fire on the crowd.

Twelve moviegoers were killed and 70 others either wounded by gunfire or injured fleeing the theater.

The 7/20 Memorial Foundation, a group of survivors, victims and their families, sponsored Thursday’s event. The organization is raising funds to build a permanent memorial to the tragedy.

“We are part of a family, we never have to say anything about it. It’s just there,” said Jansen Young, whose boyfriend Jonathan Bunk was killed protecting her during the shooting.

A moment of silence was observed at 12:38 a.m., the time at which James Holmes sprayed the crowded theater with bullets. He later surrendered to police in the theater parking lot.

The then-24-year-old California native pleaded not guilty of murder charges by reason of insanity in April 2015. A jury convicted him on all counts and he is currently serving his multiple life sentences at an undisclosed prison.

George Brauchler, the district attorney who prosecuted Holmes, said in an interview before the event that his thoughts are often with the victims and their families.

Brauchler also said the police officers who responded to the theater saved many lives when they grabbed mortally wounded victims and turned their patrol cars into makeshift ambulances.

“I still see those guys and they are changed forever -- much like Aurora itself,” he said.

Reporting by Keith Coffman, additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Editing by Catherine Evans