The Dark Knight Rises, one of – if not the – most anticipated films of 2012, opened in theaters last night to record-breaking midnight screening numbers (estimated at $27 million). However, even while fans on the West Coast were standing in line to get their chance to see Christopher Nolan’s final Batman film at 12:01 AM (or 3:00 AM in some cases), tragedy had already struck a local theater in Aurora, Colorado – when an armed gunman walked into a midnight screening of the film and opened fire.

Police first received reports of the shooting at 12:39 AM (MST) but, before they could get to the scene, the gunman had already taken the lives of at least twelve moviegoers and wounded fifty nine others.

While plenty of details still have to be worked out, investigators have pieced together a rough picture of the event through eyewitness reports (we’ll update when an “official” timeline is released).

The suspect, believed to be James Holmes (a 24-year-old Aurora man) donned a gas mask and Kevlar before gaining access to the theater through an emergency exit. Once inside, the man stepped in front of the screen, threw out tear gas canisters and opened fire on the audience. At first, some members of the attendees didn’t even realize they were in danger – thinking that the “smoke” and gunfire were special simulated effects for the midnight show. According to CNN reports, the shooter brought at least four guns, described as “an ‘AK type’ rifle, a shotgun and two handguns” (one of which was left in his car) – some of the bullets even injured moviegoers in an adjacent theater. Several victims remain in critical condition (at the time of this writing) and both a nine year-old and three month-old are among the wounded.

Holmes was quickly apprehended after the event behind the theater and, according to police spokesperson Frank Fania, “He did not resist. He did not put up a fight.” Investigators then traveled to Holmes’ apartment – evacuating the complex after the gunman mentioned something about explosive materials. Upon arrival, police found “items of interest” and a “sophisticated” sequence of flammable traps. The gunman is believed to have worked alone (there’s no evidence of a second shooter) – and does not appear to have ties to any form of terrorist organizations.

Audiences attend movies for a variety of reasons and, no doubt, one of the most obvious is to get away from the horrors of the real world – to escape into fictional stories where we can be thrilled and moved without consequence. As a result of the shooting, Warner Bros. has cancelled tonight’s Dark Knight Rises premiere in Paris – as well as suspending interviews and other media events:

“Warner Bros. is deeply saddened to learn about this shocking incident. We extend our sincere sympathies to the families and loved ones of the victims at this tragic time.”

Additionally, as is the case following similar shooting events in the past, police around the country (and world) will be on patrol for potential copycats – with New York City police commissioner, Raymond Kelly, already indicating that the city will be beefing up security at theaters:

“As a precaution against copycats and to raise the comfort levels among movie patrons in the wake of the horrendous shooting in Colorado, the New York City Police Department is providing coverage at theaters where the ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ is playing in the five boroughs.”

Hopefully that “coverage” will keep everyone safe this weekend – so that movie lovers can enjoy The Dark Knight Rises (read our review) without further incident.

Screen Rant would like to express our sincere condolences to the friends and family of those affected by the Aurora shooting at this difficult time.

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick.

The Dark Knight Rises is now open in U.S. theaters (2D and IMAX).

Source: CNN, NBC & Warner Bros.