A year after theater shooting, Colorado seeks healing
AURORA, Colo. — Some recited the names of the dead. Some did good deeds for their neighbors. And some were practicing yoga, walking through nature or simply talking.
Coloradans looked for ways to heal as they marked the anniversary of the Aurora movie theater massacre with a city-sponsored “Day of Remembrance.”
It was one year ago Saturday that a gunman opened fire early into a packed midnight screening of the Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises.” The rampage lasted less than two minutes but left deep wounds that still ache in Aurora, Colorado's third-largest city which spreads out across the rolling plains on Denver's eastern side.
Twelve people died, including a 6-year-old girl. Seventy were hurt, some of them paralyzed. Countless others inside the theater and out bear the invisible wounds of emotional trauma.
Parents, siblings and survivors of those slain attended a morning ceremony of prayer, song and remembrance outside Aurora's City Hall. Several hundred people - including police and fire personnel and members of Colorado's congressional delegation - bowed their heads as the names of dead were read. A small bell tolled after each. The Hinkley High School choir sang “Amazing Grace.”
“One year ago, the peace of our community was shattered,” Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan said. “We are still seeking justice.”
“It is important for us to remember that one senseless act does not, cannot and will not define us as a community,” Hogan added. “This is a story of resilience, not just of Aurora but of humankind.”
Gov. John Hickenlooper told the crowd that many people still struggle with unanswered questions.
“I know I do,” Hickenlooper said.
Mourners clutched white roses and, as the ceremony ended, laid them beneath a large wreath bearing the inscription, “In memory of those lost and those whose lives were forever.”
For the rest of the day, residents were encouraged to volunteer for community projects ranging from painting at a church to tending a community garden, from sorting food bank donations to donating blood.
Spiritual and mental health counselors were available, along with art therapy projects and poetry readings.
Democratic state Rep. Rhonda Fields, whose district includes the renamed Cinemark theater, said she is still numb and in mourning.
“It hasn't fully mended after a year,” she said.
Fields said she isn't surprised by that. Her son, Javad Marshall-Fields, and his fiancee were shot to death in 2005 to keep Marshall-Fields from testifying in a murder trial.
“I'm all too familiar to losing someone to gun violence,” Fields said. “I know someone's missing that used to be part of the unit.”
On Friday and into early Saturday, Fields and other volunteers read the names of the more than 2,500 people who have been killed in gun-related violence in the U.S. since the Newtown, Conn., massacre in December. The last volunteer to read names was Stephen Barton, who was wounded last year in the theater shooting.
Immediately after Barton was finished, about 40 volunteers held a moment of silence at 12:38 a.m. Saturday, the time the shooting began one year earlier. The silence lasted for 82 seconds to represent the 12 people killed and the 70 who were wounded.
The ceremony under temporary flood lights at Cherry Creek State Park in Aurora was sponsored by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, not the city of Aurora. A gun rights group, Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, contended the ceremony wrongly politicized a tragedy to promote gun control, so it staged a counter-rally nearby.
Anniversary observances of tragedies can help victims heal, said Charles Figley, a professor at Tulane University in New Orleans and director of the university's Traumatology Institute.
“They bring people together and they recognize that they're not alone, that they are part of something bigger than they are, and that's protection. It's a sense of safety,” he said.
People who endure a trauma commonly face five questions, Figley said: What happened; why did it happen; why did I act the way I did at the time, and since; what if it happens again?
“So when you have a gathering, they're able to more completely answer those questions for themselves, and communities can answer those questions for themselves,” Figley said.