Back in April, we told the story of Aurora theater shooting survivor Carli Richards -- whose victimization didn't end when she escaped the Century 16. In the months after the shooting, Richards was harassed online by people who labeled her a liar, a publicity seeker and a pawn in a government conspiracy to take away America's guns.
Richards doesn't know why the harassers targeted her. Perhaps it's because she had a sprawling online presence. Or maybe it's because she refused to hide.
Whatever the cause, the effect was that Richards was essentially re-victimized with every harsh comment, every conspiracy theorist's screed. Someone tried to hack into her e-mail account. Another filed a bizarre motion in the court case purporting to be Richards and claiming that the suspect was being set up by reclusive billionaire "Philip Anschutz, (Aurora) police chief Dan Oates, and the Illuminati."
Richards took steps to protect herself, including deleting some of her social media profiles and disguising others. But she refused to hide completely. To disappear "would mean they were somehow justified or I would be accepting what they said or what they did," she told us. "They kind of win."
Now, as the one-year anniversary of the July 20 shooting approaches, Richards reports that the harassment has died down. "It's been so quiet," she says. She figures that the trolls have either lost interest and moved on or that the realization that the Arapahoe County district attorney's office was aware of the situation -- prosecutors commented on the harassment of victims in a public court motion -- scared them enough to shut them up.
"It's kind of nice to have that peace," Richards says.
Overall, Richards is doing well. Her anxiety has decreased, she says, and she's able to sleep at night. She and her boyfriend, Chris Townson, who was with her in the theater that night but wasn't injured, have both recently quit smoking and are once again optimistic about the future -- a feeling she hadn't felt in a while. "I feel like we're in the same place we were last summer before the shooting happened," Richards says.
They've even begun going to the movies regularly, a favorite pastime of theirs. They recently saw This is the End and Pacific Rim. But Richards says she'll probably never return to Aurora's Century 16 theater, even though it's been reopened and remodeled.
The experiences of the past year have taught her an important lesson, she says -- one she's able to see clearly now: "When you think things aren't getting better, they totally are."