Family, friends react to Aurora shooting that left 4 dead

Victims, gunman identified by family

AURORA, Colo. - The family and friends of the people shot and killed in Aurora reacted Sunday to the weekend tragedy.

SWAT officers who stormed a Colorado home where a gunman had holed up found the horrific scene:  four dead bodies including that of the gunman.

Police said the armed man fired shots at officers Saturday from a second-story window before he died. Once inside, they found the bodies of three other adults.

The suspect held officers at bay for nearly six hours after neighbors reported gunfire at 3 a.m. inside the modest townhome in the Denver suburb of Aurora, said police Sgt. Cassidee Carlson.

It wasn't known if officers shot the suspect or if he shot himself.

Investigators said two men and a woman appeared to have been killed before officers arrived.

The suspect shot at police who approached the front of the home with an armored vehicle and who fired tear gas around 8:15 a.m. He was killed when he fired at officers from the second-story window about 45 minutes later, Carlson said.

"After we arrived on scene, there were no more shots fired up until he fired at us," Carlson said. "During this time he was all over the house. He moved furniture. He was throwing things. He was agitated. He was irrational."

A large front window was missing in the two-story townhome, the window's mini-blinds in disarray. Bullet holes marked two upstairs windows, and neighbors milled about outside.

A fifth person escaped unharmed and called police to report that she saw three people inside the home who "appeared lifeless," said Carlson, who declined to elaborate about the woman's escape.

Friends and a church identified the survivor as Stephanie Archuletta.  

A motive for the killings was unknown, and police had yet to say what weapon or weapons were used. Investigators wearing gloves and carrying evidence bags were going over the crime scene.

Police declined to release the victims' names.

Officers evacuated neighbors' homes during the standoff and used a bullhorn to communicate with the gunman, urging him to surrender.

Next-door neighbor Melissa Wright, a nurse who treated victims of the July movie theater shootings in Aurora, said she was in her second-floor bedroom when she saw the gunman start shooting from his own bedroom window. She said she didn't know what he was shooting at, and that she quickly dropped to the floor.

"I hit the ground pretty fast," Wright said.

Wright said she slid on her belly to the first floor of her home and told police what she saw upstairs. Officers quickly entered her home.

The step-sister of Stephanie and one of the victims lives in Connecticut and told 7NEWS that Stephanie was always very involved with the church.

"You watch the news, we just went through the Newtown shooting and you feel for those people. But you don’t know what that’s like, because it’s not someone you know," Wurzbacher said. "There are no words to describe that feeling. To know that they are actually gone, is such a heavy loss. I know my father’s family is very distraught, and hurt to have him pulled from his family."

On Sunday, the church Stephanie Archuleta attended issued a statement that said:

"The Word of Life Christian Center community was stunned and saddened to learn of the tragic events on Saturday in Aurora. Stephanie Archuleta has been a member of our community for several years. While we are thankful that she survived this tragedy, we also share in her grief."

The shootings occurred about four miles southeast of the Aurora Mall, where 12 people were killed and dozens were wounded by a gunman at a midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises" on July 20. The man charged in that shooting, James Holmes, goes to court Monday for a preliminary hearing in which prosecutors will present their case against him.

The July shootings prompted Gov. John Hickenlooper - just before the Newtown, Conn., massacre - to say it is time to debate gun control. It's expected to be a heated topic at the Colorado Legislature this year.

Aurora, just east of Denver, is one of Colorado's largest and most diverse cities with more than 335,000 residents. It is home to Buckley Air Force Base as well as the sprawling University of Colorado Health Sciences Center campus, where James Holmes studied neuroscience before the movie theater shootings.