Aurora theater shooting: "We are all just crying"

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Editor's note: Sam Levin is at Gateway High School, near the scene of the Aurora Century 16 theater shooting.

People continue to gather at Gateway High School, where witnesses were taken after the attack -- among them more and more panicked individuals trying to find out whether friends and loved ones were at the theater. Monica Lozano is one of them.

A short time ago, Lozano came rushing by with four kids by her side to see if her friend's daughter, eighteen-year-old Merari Garcia, was at the school.

"We're just trying to find out if she's here," she says.; "She was going out last night and didn't let us know we're she was going. We don't know where she is."

She says Merari is not picking up the phone. They've called most hospitals and can't locate her.

This is a common story right now. Panic in Aurora.

Press is being kept out of the high school, But we caught up with Maisha Fields, executive director of the Fields Foundation, an Aurora youth nonprofit, who was allowed inside. "There are around twenty [witnesses] still in there," she says. "People are in there just crying. We are all just crying."

Fields says youth members of the nonprofit were at the theater yesterday and others even live in the building where the suspect lives, so the event is really hitting home.

"We want to make sure every student impacted has the services they need," she says.

"People need time to reflect, [but] we also need to give them a sense of encouragement and hope," she says. "What can we do to restore hope?"

Still, she adds, "You never get over death. That never goes away."

Representative Rhonda Fields, who will be leading a prayer vigil at 7 p.m. this evening, also stopped inside. "It's very somber," she says. "It's very quiet. I didn't stay long, just surveying the place. We're just offering services for them, letting them know what's available to them."

She adds, "You just feel their pain. Why me? Why me? One day you're with a loved one and the next day, they are murdered senselessly. Senselessly."

Continue reading for previous coverage.

Update, 10:18 a.m. July 20: Eric Hunter, 23, a radiologist who lives in Aurora, was in Aurora Century 16 theater eight -- next to theater nine, where shooting broke out during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises. He witnessed the mayhem that followed.

Here are Hunter's raw recollections:

"It was just a horrific scene. I don't think I'll be able to shake that from my memory, hearing people screaming, seeing people shot in the back.

"We were watching the movie and we see smoke bellowing, and hear three shots. We're thinking it's firecrackers, stupid kids or something or part of the show. Once that happens, ten or twenty seconds go by. Then seven or eight shots. When that happens, we know this is serious. People are starting to exit the theater.

"I start walking down the stairs. There's blood on the stairs. A lot of blood. That's when I know this is not part of the movie.

"There's people getting hurt here. There's a shooter, there's a shooter, people are screaming.

"I head down the stars and go to an exit and two seventeen- or sixteen-year-old girls are there. One is shot in the mouth. Her face is all messed up, and she's screaming, 'Help me, help me please, he's coming back.' Once she said that, I grabbed the girls and led them in.

"Then I see the shooter coming around the corner, wearing all black, a gas mask. He had riot gear on. He had all black on. He looked like he wasn't trying to make it out. He had two guns.

"I saw another person got shot in the arm. Everyone's trying to get out. We all start panicking. We're going past people laying on the ground. Shot. Bleeding. It's just a lot of tragedy everywhere.

"Outside I see a guy, a big guy, walking back and forth, pacing. Then he falls on his back, starts screaming, 'Help, help.' He's in pain. We realize he got shot in the back.

"Then we saw the little girl being carried out. She was limp. She passed out before they even made it out. Once we saw her, everything changed.

"We are just very traumatized. We can't stop thinking about it."

Joel Wheelersburg, a 27-year-old youth pastor from Aurora, was also in theater eight. The screening was sold out; he says he got one of the last tickets. He came to Gateway High School today to provide prayer support, he says. He also shares his experiences, described below:

"When we heard gunshots, I thought it was part of the movie. I figured they have some good sound effects, when all the sudden we hear gunshots through the wall. After that, we knew something was up. There was dust coming down, smoke coming into the room. We were scared because we didn't know what was going on.

"I heard people screaming when we left the theater. People were running down the stairs across the lobby and that's where the chaos was happening.

"People were coming in and saying, 'Don't come out! There's someone with a gun!'

"We saw people being carried out, carrying out each other.... There was the little girl being carried out. People were saying, 'We've got a young girl, we've got a child. We need an ambulance!'"

Outside, he goes on, "We circled up and we prayed. We just prayed as a group. Prayed for people that were being carried out.

"Two girls came over and said, 'Our dad is unresponsive,' so we prayed with them. We prayed for them.... They were teenagers."

Jeremiah Wheelersburg, Joel's 25-year-old brother, who was visiting from South Lake Tahoe but previously lived in Aurora, adds this:

"I'm numb. I'm just numb. It's just tragic.

"It was just so much confusion. The scariest part was just the sound of the movie still going as people were screaming. And the image of my wife panicking. She just wanted to get out.

"We were standing on the balcony and you could smell the tear gas and you look down and you see people running in and out, so much confusion.

"I saw people carrying bodies out.... There were three or four people carrying a lady who was bleeding.

"One minute we're watching a movie and then it's like it's coming to life in front of you."

Page down to see our earlier coverage. Original post, 9:01 a.m. July 20: Many Gateway High School football players were at the midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises at the Aurora Century 16 when shooting broke out. Fellow players say Zack Golditch, a star CSU recruit, was among the wounded.

In a June article in the Aurora Sentinel, Golditch is described as a "6-foot-5, 260-pound offensive tackle preparing for his senior year -- and already the owner of nearly every major weight lifting standard kept at the school." He offered his verbal commitment to CSU last month.

According to Dominique Pitts and Deeray Bolding, seventeen, and Kaleel Lewis, sixteen, Golditch was shot in the neck. From what they've heard, he's in stable condition, but they're still concerned:

"We just want to know if he's okay," Pitts says. "We just want him to get better soon." He adds, "Everyone is gonna remember this day. So many people from our high school were there. Everyone on the team was talking about it."

"He's a star player," Bolding adds. "He was just a good guy."

According to Lewis, "Everyone was so hyped about seeing this movie. It's shocking. It's just shocking one of our main football players was shot in the neck. He's one of the best."

In Bolding's opinion, "We need better gun laws. This is out of control." He confirms that "this is a scene I would never expect to see at my school. I expected to come here today and hear about how good the movie was."

Like Golditch, Brianna Dozier and her boyfriend Ricardo Flores, both eighteen-year-old Aurora residents, were at the theater last night. They've been up all night and were leaving the high school, where attendees were taken after the theater was cleared, when we caught up with them.

"We were watching the movie," Flores says. "It was just twenty minutes in and then out of nowhere someone threw some kind of grenade or something" -- a reference to a device that reportedly poured smoke into the auditorium. "Then thirty seconds later, gunshots. The lights came on in the theater. I heard glass break.... My first thought was panic -- I have to get out of here. We ran out the back exit."

According to Flores, "I heard fifteen to twenty shots. People that could run ran. Others just stayed." In his opinion, "I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."

"Getting shot at was the scariest thing," Dozier says. "It was loud; there were lights from the gunshots.... My first thought was to hide, but he [Ricardo] picked me up.

"I just hope [the other victims] are okay and the family is okay," she says.

Update: Here are photos of the shooter, James Holmes, 24:

More from our News archive: "Aurora theater shooting at The Dark Knight Rises: Jessica Ghawi, news intern, ID'd as victim."

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