‘We will remember you,’ Hickenlooper says

The Colorado Statesman

Thousands gathered to sing, pray and grieve at the Aurora Municipal Center on Sunday, two days after a shooting rampage at a nearby movie theater left 12 dead and 58 injured.

Lisa Moreno carries 2 year-old Tariq on her hip as she ponders what to write on the marker for 6 year-old victim Veronica Moser-Sullivan.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman

“We refuse to be, to even allow our state and communities to be defined by irrational, senseless violence,” said Gov. John Hickenlooper, looking out over a crowd estimated at 10,000 by city officials.

Family members of the victims of the mass shooting at an Aurora movie theater walk across the plaza at the conclusion of a prayer vigil on July 22 at the Aurora Municipal Center.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Like others at the prayer vigil — politicians, clergy and community leaders — the governor made a point of recognizing the victims of the massacre while refusing to utter the name of the suspect in police custody, 24-year-old James Eagan Holmes, a former graduate student in neuroscience at the nearby University of Colorado campus in north Aurora.

Governor John Hickenlooper’s words stimulate an enthusiastic response from several thousand attendees at the vigil on Sunday night.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman

As he spoke the names of the dozen who died in the shooting, Hickenlooper paused a dozen times so that mourners could respond “We will remember you” in a solemn and determined collective voice that grew to a crescendo of grief.

President Barack Obama talks about one of the victims and her injury at the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora on Sunday, after visiting with families of victims of the movie theater shooting as well as local officials.
Pool photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post

Then he praised the Aurora Police Department’s swift response — officers arrived at the theater within minutes of the first 911 calls — and nearly immediate apprehension of the suspect. “And I refuse to say his name,” Hickenlooper said as the crowd cheered its approval. “In my house we’re just going to call him Suspect A.”
It was a theme sounded again and again as speakers urged the crowd — amplified many times over by a forest of television news crews broadcasting the vigil around the world — to focus on the victims, their families and friends, and the survivors, instead of dwelling on the horrific crime and its perpetrator.

Mourners line up on July 22 at a prayer vigil held at the Aurora Municipal Center to show support for victims of a shooting at an Aurora movie theater that left 12 dead and 58 injured. “Thank you Aurora Police, Fire & EMS,” reads one sign. “Here in support of the families,” reads another.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Three nights earlier, at 12:39 a.m. on July 20, a gunman burst into a sold-out midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises, the new Batman movie, at the Century 16 Aurora Theater, threw two gas canisters and opened fire on the crowd with a shotgun, an assault rifle and a handgun, authorities said. Minutes later, police apprehended a suspect clad in bullet-proof gear, a helmet and a gas mask, later identified as Holmes. Police soon discovered that Holmes’ apartment, in north Aurora near the CU Hospital, had been booby-trapped with explosives and trip wires.

Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates talks with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper after the conclusion of a prayer vigil to honor victims of a mass shooting at an Aurora movie theater.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“We can’t adequately communicate how deeply we share their grief,” Hickenlooper said. “But I think July 20 should never be about remembering this event or the killer. It should be about remembering those individuals, right? About remembering those victims.”


A man writes a message on Jesse Childress’ temporary grave marker near the Aurora movie theater where Childress was shot.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman

The victims killed in the shooting were Veronica Moser-Sullivan, 6; Alexander J. Boik, 18; Micayla Medek, 23; Jessica Ghawi, 24; Alexander Teves, 24; Jonathan Blunk, 26; U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class John T. Larimer, 27; Alex Sullivan, 27; Matthew McQuinn, 27; U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jesse Childress, 29; Rebecca Wingo, 32; and Gordon Cowden, 51, according to officials.


An enormous teddy bear guards over the cross erected in honor of 6 year-old Veronica Moser-Sullivan, the youngest of 12 victims to perish in the shootings at the Aurora Century 16 movie theater.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman

Hickenlooper and other officials had recently accompanied President Barack Obama on visits with survivors of the shooting and families of the victims at the University of Colorado Hospital, just a few miles from the vigil.

P.M. Wynn, Titia Stillwell, and Lori Meade pray at the vigil on July 22 at the Aurora Municipal Center to remember victims of a shooting at an Aurora movie theater.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Obama landed at Buckley Air Force Base earlier that afternoon and departed nearly four hours later, after spending nearly twice as long on the ground in Colorado as the White House had originally planned. He was accompanied by Hickenlooper, Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan, Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates, U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet and U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter for the short drive from Buckley to the hospital.

Following the prayer vigil in Aurora, mourners returned to the site of the makeshift memorial on a hill adjacent to the movie theater where the shootings took place. Here two mourners carry U.S. flags that frame the Century 16 movie theater’s neon sign.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman

After meeting with victims and their families — “not so much as President… as a father and as a husband,” he said — Obama spoke for about 10 minutes near the hospital’s pharmacy.

Petty Officer Second Class Hoover intently displays a photograph of 26 year-old Naval veteran Jon Blunk, who died in the shooting massacre when he threw himself in front of his friend Jansen Young, saving her life.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman

“I confessed to them that words are always inadequate in these kinds of situations, but that my main task was to serve as a representative of the entire country and let them know that we are thinking about them at this moment and will continue to think about them each and every day, and that the awareness that not only all of America but much of the world is thinking about them might serve as some comfort,” he said.


A young girl kneels in front of one of the temporary grave markers memorializing the twelve who died as a result of the shooting at the Aurora Century 16 movie theater on July 20.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman

Even though the man accused of “this evil act” has gotten a lot of attention in recent days, Obama said, that would soon fade. “And in the end, after he has felt the full force of our justice system, what will be remembered are the good people who were impacted by this tragedy.”

Samantha Williamson and Jazz Madison of Lamar are illuminated by their candles near the temporary memorial for the victims of the Aurora movie theater shootings.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman

Quoting the Book of Revelation, Obama said: “Scripture says that He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more. Neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Barbara Shannon Bannister, at the lectern, leads a crowd estimated at 10,000 singing “Amazing Grace” as families of the victims of a mass shooting in Aurora file across a plaza at the conclusion of a prayer vigil on July 22 at the city’s municipal center. From left are U.S. Reps. Cory Gardner, Diana DeGette, Mike Coffman and Ed Perlmutter, U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall and Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

He recounted a story of survival he had heard from two victims of the shooting, Allie Young, 19, and her best friend, Stephanie Davies, 21.

United States President Barack Obama, center, is greeted by Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates, left, and Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan after arriving at Buckley Air Force Base, Sunday July 22, 2012.
Pool photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post

Seconds after Young had been shot in the neck, Davies pressed against the wound with her fingers, Obama said, demonstrating with his own fingers on his own neck. She kept the pressure on while the gunman continued shooting, even as Young told her friend to run for her life. With her other hand, Davies dialed 911 on her cell phone, and then after SWAT teams had entered the theater, she continued pressing against her friend’s wound and helped carry her across two parking lots to a waiting ambulance.

Mourners grieve at a prayer vigil held on July 22 at the Aurora Municipal Center for the victims of a shooting at an Aurora movie theater two days earlier that left 12 dead and 58 wounded.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“I don’t know how many people at any age would have the presence of mind that Stephanie did, or the courage that Allie showed,” Obama said. And so, as tragic as the circumstances of what we’ve seen today are, as heartbreaking as it is for the families, it’s worth us spending most of our time reflecting on young Americans like Allie and Stephanie, because they represent what’s best in us, and they assure us that out of this darkness a brighter day is going to come.”


29 year-old Jesse Childress’ marker is graced with a military camouflage cap. He was a cyber systems operator stationed at Buckley AFB in Aurora, and described as a supportive and knowledgeable member of his military community.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman

It was the second time in a month that the president had landed in Colorado in the wake of a tragedy. Late last month, he toured Colorado Springs and nearby areas after a wildfire tore into the town, killing two and destroying some 600 houses.

Navy Commander Jeffrey Jakuboski lays his hand on a memorial for Petty Officer Third Class John Larimer, who was among those killed in the attack at an Aurora movie theater, during a prayer vigil on July 22 at the Aurora Municipal Center.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

At the prayer vigil, Hickenlooper told the crowd that the president — who was about to depart on Air Force One — asked the governor to convey that he couldn’t attend the vigil without turning it into something other than an event honoring the victims. “As he met these heroes, as he heard these stories, the staff kept trying to drag him out, and he wouldn’t be dragged out,” Hickenlooper added with a grin.

Following the vigil at Aurora’s Municipal Center on Sunday night, visitors return to the temporary memorial site near the Century 16 movie theater where the shootings took place to light candles by the 12 markers.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman

Then Hickenlooper recounted meeting with families of the victims as he accompanied the president. “It was almost like God had come down and picked some of the most vibrant and alive people and taken them from us,” he said. He added that one of the shooting victims told them, “The outpouring of light and love is so much more powerful than any darkness.”

Governor John Hickenlooper pauses in his address to the Aurora vigil, allowing sign-language volunteer Theresa Jones to interpret his remarks.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman

Hogan sounded a similarly defiant note, declaring that he didn’t want the shooting to define the city of 345,000, which has been cited as an “All-American City.”

The Aurora Living Hope Baptist Church Choir provides music at the vigil.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman

“It is not this senseless act of violence that marks us as a community. It is the lives and acts of these heroes and the innumerable acts of kindness and love and care for our neighbors that defines who we are,” he said.


A young girl is guided by her father as she places flowers by the temporary marker for 27 year-old US. Navy cryptologist John Larimer, who died in the Century 16 movie theater shootings.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman

Hickenlooper credited Hogan for getting by on little sleep — both had appeared that morning on several national public affairs shows, including CBS’s “Face the Nation”, NBC’s “Meet the Press” and ABC’s “This Week”, and neither had let up since news erupted in the wee hours on Friday morning that the unthinkable had happened in Aurora.


On the way to the vigil at the Municipal Center in Aurora, a sign appears at the intersection of Alameda and Abilene, proclaiming Aurora “All-American City, 2008.”
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman

After introducing dignitaries on stage — the Aurora City Council and county officials, state legislators, members of Congress and both of Colorado’s senators — Hogan turned the crowd’s attention back to the families and friends of the victims, who sat together under a large white tent close to the stage.

“Tonight, we honor loved ones no longer with us,” Hogan said. “Tonight we support the survivors. Tonight we reach out to each other and love each other and love our neighbors and demonstrate what it means to be a community of good, caring and loving people.”

Friends and family of shooting victim Micayla Medek, who worked at a Subway sandwich shop on the Anschutz Medical Center campus near the CU hospital, wore bright pink Hello Kitty T-shirts, temporary tattoos and other items displaying the cartoon character.

Several of the family groups released colorful helium balloons into the bright blue sky as anguished cheers rose from the crowd.

At points during the vigil, family and friends approached 12 candles arrayed on a ledge surrounding a large sculpture that stood in the plaza in front of the crowd, leaving flowers and other tokens of their affection.
“Angels walk with those who grieve,” read a banner held aloft in the crowd. “Like the dark knight, we will rise again. We are all Colorado,” read a sign.

When clergy took the stage and led the crowd in prayer, the plaza nearly shook with emotion as thousands bowed their heads and some wailed and cried out.

“The Bible says that we are to rejoice with those who rejoice, and we are to weep with those that weep, and we weep with you today,” said Pastor Robin Holland of Aurora’s Living Hope Baptist Church. “But we weep because we have hope that tomorrow is going to be brighter. You are Aurora, we are Aurora, we grieve together.”

Pastor Debbie Stafford, a former state lawmaker, led the crowd in a prayer for the victims, their families and friends, though she expanded its subjects to include everyone affected by the crime.

“As we’re here tonight to honor the lives of incredible people, I would like to have us remember the victims, the families and their friends. For those 12 who heroically have given their lives and those 58 who have been injured. For all of the hundreds of attendees that were in that theater and have become victims. For the employees, for the owners, for the friends, and those who have felt the ripple effect like a rock or a pebble that has been skipped across the water, and the ripples continue. Please, as we begin to pray, let us once again honor these 12 who have given their lives,” Stafford said.

“God, we are calling out to you today with tears in our eyes and sorrow in our hearts,” prayed state Rep. Rhonda Fields, who then called upon the Almighty to “knit our hearts together.”

“To the victims and survivors, and all who are here today, I want you to know that we are Aurora, and we are strong,” she said.

Denver resident Jean Monforton arrived at the vigil early, when rumors were thick that members of a Kansas church notorious for protesting at funerals and prayer vigils were planning to disrupt the Aurora event.

“I think there are a million good reasons to be here, but I am one person trying to negate the poison and the hatred and the negativity that that demented soul brought into our lives,” she said as she stood shoulder-to-shoulder with hundreds of others surrounding a vast lawn that would soon fill with mourners.

“We are a wall of strength against any of the same negativity that might surface in any way, shape or form, in contrast to what we’re all here for,” she said, adding that, “People come together in great strength, for good reasons.”

Hogan made a similar defiant point.

“In Aurora, while our hearts are broken, our community is not,” he said. “We will take this experience and use it to strengthen our commitment to each other. We will reclaim our city in the name of goodness, kindness and compassion. Let our city be a place where the vulnerable are supported by our strength. We will care for the
families and we will care for each other.”

At the conclusion of the vigil, as the crowd sang “Amazing Grace” and the families of the victims made their way across the plaza, Hogan’s closing words lingered in the air.

“Now is the time to grieve, now is the time to heal, and now is the time to begin to overcome.”

Ernest@coloradostatesman.com