* Holmes’ booby-trap is first seen in U.S. -ex-FBI agent
* Set-up could be learned on the Internet
July 24 (Reuters) - The booby-trapped apartment of the man accused of killing 12 people and wounding 58 others in last week’s movie theater shooting in Colorado was effectively a “house bomb” rarely seen outside of war zones, a former FBI agent said on Tuesday.
James Holmes’ 800-square-foot apartment in Aurora, Colorado, was so extensively wired with explosives and other devices that bomb experts needed to use a small remote-controlled detonation to prevent a blast that likely would have consumed the entire three-story building, officials said.
“This would be one of the first times I think we have ever seen what we can describe as a house bomb in the United States,” retired FBI agent Ray Lopez said on CNN Tuesday morning, a day after Holmes, 24, made his initial appearance in a Colorado court.
“We’ve seen them in places like Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Lopez, who was an explosives expert during his FBI career, which included a stint in Afghanistan. “But this is the first one that I can actually recall ever reading or seeing about in the United States where it was actually set to destroy the home.”
A law enforcement official who was on the scene during the weekend and has expertise in improvised explosives said the assembly of explosives and trip wires was extensive. Inside the apartment they found 30 aerial shells filled with gunpowder, two containers brimming with liquid accelerants and numerous bullets left to explode in the resulting fire.
Lopez said the array in Holmes’ apartment, which police believe was designed to kill first responders, required no special training to set up.
“This kind of information exists on the Internet,” Lopez said. “If you’re looking to wire explosives, it is on the Internet. With a little bit of common sense, and he has quite a bit of that, he’s very intelligent, he just put it all together and had something ready for the apartment.”
Holmes’ apartment building remains closed and police have not said when residents will be allowed to return.
Lopez’s comments came a day after Holmes made his first court appearance, looking bleary-eyed and emotionless, his unruly hair dyed shades of bright orange and red.
Holmes, 24, who was arrested outside the theater after the massacre, appeared groggy during Monday’s brief hearing. He stared straight ahead and occasionally closed his eyes as if fighting off sleep, his wrists and feet in shackles. He will be formally charged on July 30.
Police say the former neuroscience graduate student presented a far different figure last Friday when, dressed in a gas mask and body armor and toting three guns, he opened fire at a packed midnight show of “The Dark Knight Rises” at a theater complex in the Denver suburb of Aurora in the early hours.
The dead include war veterans, an aspiring sportscaster who had narrowly escaped a shooting in a Toronto mall earlier this summer and a 6-year-old girl.
The girlfriend of 24-year-old Alex Teves said he died while saving her life from the gunman in the confusion of the dark movie theater.
“He protected me. My baby didn’t hesitate. I was very confused, and he didn’t hesitate,” a tearful Amanda Lindgren, also 24, told Reuters.
More than a dozen victims remain hospitalized, several in critical condition.
Police say they are still searching for a motive for the crime, which baffled fellow students and acquaintances, and have asked for assistance from the FBI’s behavioral analysis unit. They described Holmes, a native of San Diego, as a quiet high-achiever whose past gave little inkling that anything was amiss.
Arapahoe County District Attorney Carol Chambers said she would consult with the wounded victims and families of the dead before making a decision on seeking the death penalty but a decision on that could be months away.
Holmes is in solitary confinement to protect him from other prisoners. He had recently sought to leave a doctoral degree program in neuroscience at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical School, a few blocks from his apartment. (Additional reporting by Chris Francescani, Marty Graham, Claudia Parsons and Dan Whitcomb; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Bill Trott)