Police choke up recalling US massacre in Colorado theatre

CENTENNIAL, Colorado (AFP) - Police described grim scenes after the Colorado theatre shooting, including blood "sloshing" in a car taking victims to hospital, while the gunman was strangely "out of it" when arrested.

Officers choked back tears at a preliminary hearing for James Holmes, accused of killing 12 people and injuring at least 58 more at a midnight screening in Aurora, outside Denver, in July.

As relatives dabbed away tears with handkerchiefs in court, another first responder recalled finding the youngest victim of the shooting, a six-year-old girl, with no pulse amid the carnage.

Clips were also shown of security video in which Holmes could be seen entering the theatre with an electronic ticket purchased on July 8 and standing beside the concession stand before moving off camera into Theatre 9, where the shootings occurred.

The evidence emerged at the start of a week-long hearing to decide whether there was enough evidence for a full trial of the 25-year-old, accused of opening fire at the premiere of the Batman movie "The Dark Knight Rises."

The Aurora massacre revived the perennial US debate over gun control - an issue re-ignited even more intensely by last month's shooting of 20 young children at a Connecticut elementary school.

Officer Justin Grizzle, a former paramedic, said he almost slipped over in a "huge amount of blood" as he entered the back entrance to the Century 16 movie theatre.

As ambulances struggled to cope with the scale of the slaughter, Mr Grizzle described how he transported six critically ill victims in four trips to area hospitals.

"I realised later that as I was slowing to make turns, I could hear blood sloshing in the back of my car," he testified, choking as he remembered the night.

One man sitting in the officer's car along with his stricken wife had to be restrained to keep from jumping out to go and look for the couple's daughter Veronica, who at six became the shooting's youngest victim.

Sergeant Gerald Jonsgaard, one of the first officers on the scene, described finding Veronica Moser-Sullivan as he entered the theatre shortly after midnight on July 20.

"She had been carried down from the top to the front of the theatre. I checked for a pulse. She was dead," he said, voice breaking. A colleague said he felt a pulse, but the child was declared dead on arrival in hospital.

Holmes, sporting dark brown hair and a full beard, was led into court in handcuffs at the hearing expected to uncover more details about the shooting.

Clad in dark red prison scrubs, Holmes - who had bright orange hair when he first appeared in court shortly after the shooting - stared straight ahead and talked to no one.

Aurora policeman Jason Oviatt told the court how he at first thought Holmes was another officer when he arrived with dozens of other police in response to 911 emergency calls about the shooting.

Holmes had his hands on the top of a white car at the back of the building, and as the policeman approached, he realised something was wrong.

"As I got closer, the man was just standing there, not moving. The overall picture didn't match a police officer as I got closer," he said.

Holmes offered no resistance when he was ordered to put his hands up.

"He was completely compliant... He was very relaxed, there weren't normal reactions to anything ... He was very detached,"

Witnesses said Holmes threw smoke bomb-type devices before opening fire randomly with weapons including an AR-15 military-style rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun and a .40-caliber pistol.

Prosecutors will build up their case that the shootings were a premeditated act of mass murder, while Holmes's lawyers may try to pick holes in evidence, and could argue that he is mentally unfit to stand trial.