It's a date we in Colorado will probably never forget.
That morning, at 12am, the third Batman movie was released. Midnight premiers-- I've heard they're always a fun time.
My best friend is in town, and another friend of mine invited us to the showing. We went with a couple other friends and my younger brother.
Three hours later, we exited the theater, and saw at least 5 heavily armed police men and their cars, lined up in front of the theater, National Guard style. It was unsettling. I'd never been to a midnight premier. Is this normal? we wondered. No, none of us had ever seen anything like that. We stood outside for a few more moments, talking about the movie, sharing other stories, and glancing over at the police men, speculating about their presence.
What exactly was going on? What did they think was going to happen?
My brother glanced at his phone. "Whaaaat, my dad has called me 4 times." Our dad's a notorious worrier. "I told them I'd be out late. Guess he's working early and saw that I'm not home yet."
"Yeah, my phone's been dead all night," I said. "Wonder if he's called me to see where you are. I told him I wasn't coming home tonight."
"Yeah, I'll call him back in a bit," my brother said.
We got in our cars and left. I drove my friend back to her house where I planned to stay the night, since I had only a few hours 'til I had to get up for work.
We took our turns brushing our teeth, and I went to the guest room.
My friend walked into the room moments later, holding her phone, wide-eyed.
"Amz," she said. "There was a mass shooting. At a midnight premier of Batman. In Aurora."
I just stared back.
I grabbed my ipod and went to twitter, where I mostly follow news.
I read in disbelief about the shooting that they at first thought had left 14 dead (it's now known to be 12; 10 died in the theater and 2 at local hospitals) and injured at least 50 more (the total number of casualties is now at 71).
The man wore a gas mask, a bullet proof vest, and nearly full-body armor. He entered theater number 9 through the emergency exit, which he'd slipped out and left propped open. He released gasses into the audience, and opened merciless fire. He didn't discriminate based on age or sex. He just slowly made his way up the stairs, firing upon everyone.
I didn't have the capacity to process it all. I fell asleep.
I woke up two hours later and listened to the news during my drive to work.
More details unfolded.
He is 24 year old James Holmes. They'd contacted his mother.
"You've got the right guy," she said.
And then a thought hit me: ten people were still lying dead inside that movie theater.
Ten lives immediately snuffed out.
Strewn about where they'd gone to watch a film.
Two more lying in hospital beds, dead.
I started crying.
I felt helpless. There's nothing I can do for them. For their families. For their friends.
Another thought hit me. My brother. If he hadn't been with me that night, he would have probably gone with other friends. What theater would they have chosen? The one we went to was only a half hour away from the Aurora theater.
I wiped tears off my face.
I was late for work, but I sat in the parking lot for just a few extra moments listening for more details.
Why does it help to know?
I walked in to the store. The mood was somber.
My co-worker had also gone to a midnight showing of Batman. She and her friends had gone to the Aurora theater first, but couldn't get tickets.
My other co-worker had also been at another midnight Batman showing, 15 minutes away from where the hellish events unfolded.
Customers were shaking their heads.
"Can't believe this happened."
I was making light conversation with one guy. We were talking about waking up early for work, and I said, "Yeah, doesn't help that I stayed out so late." Told him I went to the movie. He asked how it was. Said it was great, but-- I hesitated. "Do you know... Did you hear what happened?" He shook his head. "What? What happened?"
"The shooting," I continued cautiously.
His eyes widened.
I gave him the details I knew.
It felt weird, but I just... felt like he should know.
Everyone was sharing what they knew.
How they felt.
It helps to talk.
It helps to listen.
How could such a horrific thing happen?
Such an enormous number of victims.
Brothers. Sisters. Mothers. Fathers. Children. Parents. Lovers. Friends.
These are the victims.
A guy who works in my store, J, is dating a girl, K, who works in another of our stores, and I know well enough.
She was in theater 9.
She was sitting in the second row, but she got out.
Her friend was missing, he told me.
A Jane Doe.
Inside the theater?
They didn't want to think it.
She must be at a hospital, injured.
Today, they found out that she was among the 10 killed inside the theater.
K had called J moments after the shooting. He had been asleep, but woke up after she had left a message.
"Do you want to hear it?" he asked.
I didn't exactly want to hear it; felt like intruding, or something. But he handed me his phone and it was playing.
"J, J," K sobbed. "We're here and I can't... I don't... We can't find Micayla. We can't find her. I'm so scared. Please call me back."
Everybody knows somebody who was there in theater 9.
The Columbine high school massacre.
The other thing people were talking about, sadly remembering.
Another date engraved in our minds.
We never imagined we'd see anything like it here again.
I can't ask very many questions.
My mind doesn't want to go there.
Partially because I do not think the shooter was or is crazy. He is perfectly sane.
This is just what he wanted to do.
And that... that is not something I want to think about.
I don't understand him.
Every other shooting I can remember ended with the gunman or men taking their own lives.
Why did he wait outside the theater in his car to be captured?
I don't want to know what's going on inside of him.
For lunch on that Friday (yesterday... The days have been so long) I went to the fast food place my sister works in.
She got to take her break, and we ate together.
"Amy... this morning I was so scared. That could have been anywhere. That could happen anywhere. I could have watched my friends and family gunned down. This is a messed up world."
I couldn't say anything.
"And then, Amy, this lady came through the drive-through, and I said her total. And then she said, 'You know what, what's the total for the car behind me? I'll pay for them, too.' And she did. I'd never actually seen anyone do that before. The people in the car behind her were happy, but she doesn't know what she did for me. She restored my faith in humanity."
"Some people," she continued, "wake up and say, 'I'm going to kill some people today.' And some people wake up and say, 'I'm going to buy someone's meal today.'"
At my store I have two police men who come in regularly. They are the greatest guys. They make me laugh so much every time they're in.
On Thursday, the day before the shooting, they entered my store separately. The first man ordered his usual (well, he didn't say it. I just started making it, and my co-worker started ringing it up.), and then realized he'd left his wallet in the squad car. "I'll be right back," he said.
An elderly lady walked up and ordered her drink. "I'd like to pay for that gentleman's coffee, as well," she said.
My co-worker and I were delighted. We absolutely love when people do that.
Moments later, the other officer walked in, and one of our other regulars, who hadn't even heard what the lady before him did, clapped the officer on the shoulder and said, "Put his order on mine."
I couldn't control my smiles.
And my sister hit the nail on the head. Witnessing such kindness, generosity, and respect is so good for the soul. Paying for the next order seems so trivial, but it is just such an awesome gesture. An indication of love and an acknowledgement of the bond of humanity.
And that still exists.
There are good people.
And there are evil people.
And there are still good people.
What will you do for your fellow human? Your neighbor? The person walking down the street?
Life is short.
Treasure every moment.
Hug your family.
Cherish your friends.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
Live it up.
Keep the victims, their families, the injured and their families, and all others affected in your thoughts and prayers.
9news local article: Names of victims emerge in theater shooting