AURORA, Colo. -- An eager audience forgoing sleep to take in the midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises" instead were witnesses Friday to a bloody mass shooting at a suburban Denver movie theater. Police said a man clad in black threw a canister that spewed smoke before he opened fire. Witnesses said that at first, they thought it was a prank or a stunt. Then the gunman, who did not speak, shot steadily at the audience.
Some of their accounts:
Jennifer Seeger, 25
Seeger, of Aurora, said she was in the second row, about 4 feet from the gunman, when he pointed a gun at her face.
At first, "I was just a deer in headlights. I didn't know what to do," she said. Then she ducked to the ground.
The gunman shot people seated behind her. "There were bullet [casings] just falling on my head. They were burning my forehead," Seeger said.
The gunman fired steadily except when he stopped to reload. "Every few seconds it was just 'boom, boom, boom,' " she said.
"He would reload and shoot and anyone who would try to leave would just get killed," she said.
Seeger said she began crawling toward an exit when she saw a girl about 14 years old, "lying lifeless on the stairs." She saw a man with a bullet wound in his back and tried to check his pulse, but "I had to go. I was going to get shot."
Sylvana Guillen, 20
Guillen said when a man appeared at the front of the theater clad in dark clothing looking like a SWAT team member as Catwoman made an appearance in the movie, the audience "thought it was a joke, a hoax." Then they heard gunshots and smelled smoke from a canister he was carrying, and Guillen knew it was real.
The gunman began walking toward the seats and firing. Guillen said she told her friend, Misha Mostashiry, "You better get ready to be shot."
Mostashiry, also 20, said they couldn't tell where the gunman was.
"All you could do is hope he didn't come for you," she said.
"We ran to the emergency exit and nothing happened. Nothing happened to us," Mostashiry said, with surprise and relief in her voice.
On their dash to the exit, they saw a man slip in the blood of a wounded woman he was trying to help.
Kent told CBS "This Morning" he was in Theater 8, next door to the theater where the shooting happened.
"There was a lot going on in the soundtrack of the movie at that time. So in the beginning, I don't think people realized what was happening," he said.
Kent said he saw pieces of the wall falling, apparently as shots came through, and the emergency alarm went off. The theater told people to leave.
"There was huge commotion to get out of the theater and when I exited, there were police with assault rifles running in."
Eric Hunter, 23
Hunter said it all started with smoke.
"There was smoke that came in. It had to be a smoke bomb because there was a significant amount of smoke that came into the theater. Then the gunshots happened," he said.
He and his friends thought they were hearing firecrackers that were part of the movie, so they settled back to continue watching the movie for another 10 to 20 seconds before they heard several more shots.
"We knew something was wrong because people started getting up, moving out," Hunter said, adding he and his friends made their way to an exit. When Hunter opened the door, he saw two teenage girls -- one shot in the mouth and the other one crying.
Hunter said he was about to close the door when he saw the gunman. "He's coming my way so I shut the door. So I hold the door for a little bit. He's banging on the door for about 10 seconds," Hunter said. He said he was afraid the gunman would shoot through door, so he let it go and managed to get out of the theater.