This happened to me four years ago. It’s by far the most extreme and life threatening situation I’ve been in. The eyewitness account you are about to read is 100% true, and is mine.
For some understanding, this happened in the United States. It was the summer of 2012. My longtime boyfriend and I had recently gotten married. Even though we were dirt poor college students and lived in a dinky apartment, we were having a blast. That particular summer we gathered with our friends at the local movie theater almost every weekend. There was one just down the street from our apartment that had really cheap movie tickets. A night out that was under $10 was certainly within our budget!
Anyway, one Thursday night I received a call from this group of friends inviting us to watch the midnight premiere of the newest Batman movie. I had just finished working a 12 hour shift and was pretty tired. I almost refused the invitation and thought of crashing in my apartment instead. However, I didn’t want to miss out on the fun, and it was a movie I’d wanted to see for a while anyway. Certainly it wouldn’t do any harm to stay up later than usual and miss a few hours of sleep, right?
At 10:30 PM we met at the theater. We passed large cardboard cut-outs of Catwoman and Batman as we walked inside, greeted by the smell of buttery popcorn and the chatter of excited movie goers. The ticket booth was to the right of the entrance, and just above that was an electronic list of movies being played. The 12:00 AM showing of the Dark Knight Rises was displayed up there in bright red letters. Being paranoid that the tickets would sell out quickly, one of my friends swung by earlier that day and purchased tickets for all of us. We bypassed the ticket line and went straight to the ticket taker. She smiled at us and kindly directed us to Theater 9, which was on the right side of the lobby.
If only I had known what I do now. That among the crowds a killer was lurking. That as I walked across that tacky red and purple carpet towards Theater 9, I could have been walking to my death. I think about it often now, what I would have done had I known. Pulled the fire alarm, called the police, screamed for people to run away….But, of course, I had no way of knowing what was about to happen. Oblivious to the peril I was putting myself in; I pushed open the doors for Theater 9 without giving it a second thought.
The hallway in this theater was shaped like a U and you could go either right or left. Theater 9 was the largest screening room in the building, perfect for accommodating the crowds that midnight premieres brought in. The screen was motionless and gray; not even the previews had started yet because there was still a good hour and a half to go until the movie actually started. We entered on the right side, so all of the seats were to our left. I remember being surprised at just how packed the theater already was. Just about every seat was filled, much to our dismay. At first it seemed like we wouldn’t find a spot to sit together. Now, the way this theater was set up, there was a section of seats right in front of the screen. This area was flat, and there were about five rows of seating in this section. A lot of seats in that section were empty, but sitting right in front of the movie screen sucks and none of us wanted to sit there. One of my friends then spotted a row with five empty seats all next to each other, perfect for the amount of people we had. These seats were about 3-4 rows up from where the seating rows start to elevate. We ran up the stairs before someone could take the seats and filed in. My husband, Brock, sat in the 5th seat. I sat next to him, and my friend Samantha sat next to me on my right side. Her boyfriend, Tommy, sat next to her, and another friend named Leo sat in the aisle seat.
We spent the next several minutes casually chatting, joking around, and laughing. After a while my three friends went to the lobby to buy drinks and that addicting movie theater popcorn. While they were gone, Brock and I passed the time by people watching. The theater was bright since the lights weren’t dimmed yet, and I could see everyone clearly. There were a lot of people dressed in Batman T-shirts and hoodies. One person even had a mask and one of those shirts with an attached cape. There were a lot of kids in attendance as well, which wasn’t surprising because, even though it was a Thursday night, it was summer vacation so that meant no school the next day. Of all the people I saw, the person I will never forget was the little girl sitting in our same row a few chairs away. She was really cute, blond with blue eyes, and passed us several times on her way to the lobby, each time coming back with various snacks and popcorn. Overall, people seemed very excited to see the movie, and the room was filled with energy and laughter.
After what seemed like an eternity of waiting, the lights started to dim and the previews began. Just like every movie I’ve seen before, a quick animation flashed across the screen reminding us to get refreshments from the lobby (we were already devouring that popcorn like ravenous animals), to silence our cell phones, and to make sure we know where the emergency exits are. The animation had this ugly CGI cat in a tuxedo that was sitting in a movie theater. I casually glanced at the bright green emergency exit signs that were on the left and right sides of the movie screen. I didn’t think much of the reminder, like usual. After that, I only remember one preview for the Man of Steel, the others I’m not sure what they were about. When the movie started the theater erupted into cheering and clapping. The title of the movie, The Dark Knight Rises, exploded onto the screen. This was followed by the scene where Bane is hijacking a plane. I thought this scene was pretty cool and it caught my interest right away. Only when the movie started to get a little less interesting did I remember just how tired I was. I decided I would close my eyes at the more boring parts to get a little bit of rest. I had been awake for 20 hours at that point, so I was rightfully sleepy. My eyes were closed for most of the duration of Batman and Catwoman’s encounter. I don’t really remember what was going on in that part of the movie (perhaps some of you have seen it and know what I’m talking about.) Anyway, when I opened my eyes again Bruce Wayne was on his computer digging up information on Catwoman. This is the last scene I saw. I never got to watch the rest of the movie.
All of a sudden, a loud BANG erupted from the left side of the theater. I sort of screamed a little because it startled me. A strange smell started to fill the auditorium. It was like the smell of a firework, so I thought it was a cherry bomb or something similar. Had someone thrown fireworks into the crowd as a prank? Then, down near the right sight of the movie screen, the dark silhouette of a person caught my attention. They were just a black frame against the bright movie screen. A series of flashing lights was coming from this person. It was a weird moment where time literally slowed down and everything went strangely quiet. I was completely frozen, unable to move and really unable to think at all. It was like my brain had stopped working entirely.
Brock caught on immediately to what was happening and he grabbed me. He pulled me to the ground and lay on top of me, shielding me with his own body. At this point time and sound returned to me. I could hear the gunshots ringing out across the theater. People were screaming. The movie was still playing on top of it all, creating a chaotic explosion of sound. I realized the flashing lights I had seen were bullets flying out of a gun barrel. An instant sensation of adrenaline flooded my body. There was absolutely nothing I could do except lay there and hope to God that the bullets I heard ripping through seats and walls wouldn’t go through me, too. At one point shrapnel hit my head, cutting off a good chunk of my hair, and as I reached for the spot to make sure it wasn’t bleeding hot pieces of metal fell into my hand.
I was lying face up, so I could see everything that was happening. The lights from a still-playing movie danced across the ceiling and walls. My friends were on the floor with me. Our unfinished bucket of popcorn was spilled all across the floor. Leo had his legs sticking out into the aisle because there wasn’t enough room for him to hide completely behind the seats. At some point Samantha’s water bottle, which had been in the cup holder between our seats, exploded. Water splashed all over my face. The smell of gun smoke was overwhelming. Riot grade tear gas made me cry and caused me to cough uncontrollably. There was another smell, too; the horrible metallic smell of blood that I’ll never forget. I remember my lower body feeling wet all of a sudden. For some reason I thought this came from the leaking water bottle, but I soon realized this wasn’t the case.
All of a sudden things went strangely quiet. The bullets had stopped for some reason. Tommy shouted “LET’S GET OUT OF HERE!” We took advantage of the opportunity and made a run for it. We ran down the stairs, across the front of the screen towards a bright green EXIT sign. We crammed into a small, closet-like space where the door was. It was so dark we had a hard time finding it. We were screaming and slamming on the walls to find the door, blinded by the tear gas and dumbfounded by shock. Then, finally, my hands felt the metal door handle and I pushed against it with all my strength. The door flew open and the light of a nearby streetlight flooded our eyes. We pushed against the door so hard that we all fell over onto the concrete. Samantha lost her pink flip flops just outside this doorway.
As I scrambled to my feet and literally ran for my life, I realized my legs were red; absolutely soaked with blood. It was like I dipped my legs into a bath tub full of it. I checked my body all over and realized I wasn’t injured at all. Where had this blood come from? I looked behind me and realized that the blood was my husband’s. He had been shot in the leg. A massive, gaping hole had ripped through the lower half of Brock’s right leg. His foot was barely hanging on and dangled lifelessly. Leo and a young man I didn’t recognize were carrying Brock because, after falling outside the door, he lost all his strength and he couldn’t walk. I was completely shocked. I had no idea he had been injured, especially since he was right behind me the whole time and managed to escape the theater all by himself. How he did it on one foot, I’ll never know.
At this point I screamed. My scream was so loud that it alerted nearby construction workers. At the back of the theater there was a narrow parking lot, followed by a grassy lawn and then the street beyond that. The construction workers were doing road repair on this street, but as soon as they heard my scream and saw us running they stopped working and watched what was going on. I’m not sure why this is such a vivid part of my memory. Anyway, they carried Brock along the back sidewalk all the way to the end, where the corner of the building is. This was quite a distance, several dozen feet. My husband then collapsed from exhaustion and pain, saying he couldn’t move anymore. He lay down and a puddle of blood started to form beneath him. I looked back, and realized we had left a trail of blood leading from the door all the way to our current position.
I was trembling. I knelt beside Brock and glanced around to see who else was injured. Tommy had been shot in the knee and the hip, and was further away in the parking lot. The teenager who helped my husband was also injured. His dad and mom were with him; his mom was sitting against the wall and looked like she was going to pass out. She was bleeding from several places. That family escaped at the same time we did. I guess they heard the bullets stop and decided to make a run for it, too. We were all lucky, because the shooting was still going on inside.
I had to take off my shirt and use it to stop the bleeding. I’ll never forget how lifeless and limp his leg felt, and I imagined that’s what a dead body must feel like. I got blood all over my hands and arms. The police showed up really, really fast. I’d say we were only outside for a minute or two before the red and blue sirens filled the night and rushed to our location (we were literally a block away from the police station). A female officer stood by us the whole time until paramedics arrived, which took a very long time.
Brock was one of the last to be taken to a hospital. He was bleeding out for almost twenty minutes before an ambulance pulled up on the same street with the road work. At this point he had become almost unresponsive and was on the verge of unconsciousness. Several massive guys rushed across the grass with a stretcher, loaded him onto it, and then ran with him back to the waiting ambulance. I wasn’t able to go with him because there was another injured person in the ambulance, and it was too crowded. I wandered around to the front of the theater alone, unsure of where my friends had went. My blood stained shirt and a pool of blood were left behind on the corner of that sidewalk.
Walking through the crowds felt like a dream. I couldn’t believe what just happened. People were in hysterics and crying. A lot of people such as me were covered in blood. And, like me, I’m pretty sure the blood staining their skin and clothes wasn’t their own. A lot of people seemed to notice how lonely and dazed I looked, so they kept me company and even offered me a ride to different hospitals to find Brock, because I hadn’t been told what hospital he was taken to. I hung around these people for a while as police swarmed the area and asked us what we saw inside the theater. The whole parking lot was on lockdown, and we weren’t going to be allowed to leave any time soon. It was around 2:00 AM, so it was very dark outside still (and I was pretty cold, wearing only an undershirt and shorts). The flashing red and blue lights of what seemed like 100 police cars were blinding. I remember seeing a big police vehicle pull up that said something like “Crime Scene Investigation Unit” on it. I think that’s when it really sank in and hit me. I started to get sick to my stomach and wanted to vomit, but somehow I was able to hold it back.
Eventually, police started letting people leave. I jumped into my truck and booked it out of there. I was in such a panic that I didn’t even think to go back to my apartment, grab my cell phone (which I had forgotten) and call my parents or someone else to help me! I was angry, upset, scared, and most of all still in a state of shock. Was I really going to lose Brock only a month shy of our first wedding anniversary because of some psychopath with a gun? Thankfully, by the time dawn rolled around I found the hospital he was treated in. This was in the next city over, maybe 45 minutes from the theater if you’re going the speed limit. I was so happy to be there, and the hospital staff were all so welcoming and understanding. After making sure I wasn’t injured as well, they let me wait in the ICU room that Brock would be placed in when he was done recovering from surgery. I was so glad he was alive. Brock and Tommy both had survived, though many others weren’t so lucky.
I found out the following day (after some much needed sleep on a hospital couch) that 12 people were killed in this shooting and over 70 were injured (I remember they first thought 15 people were killed, but the real number was 12). The little blond girl sitting in my row did not survive. She died in the theater no more than a few feet from us. She had been shot multiple times. A heart broken police officer, who cried during his court testimony, tried unsuccessfully to save her by carrying her out of the theater and having her sent to a hospital. Tommy was rushed to a different hospital in the back of a police car. He underwent surgery and made a full recovery. The bullet missed his hip bone and narrowly missed his urinary tract and bladder. According to the surgeons, my husband lost almost half his blood. Brock made it to the hospital just in time; any later and he would have died. He underwent several blood transfusions and was in the hospital for 21 days. The wound to his leg was severe enough that they had to amputate it after trying unsuccessfully to save it.
It’s been so long since the shooting happened that my husband, friends, and I have been able to recover from it somewhat. The event was pretty horrifying and has left us scarred for sure. I wouldn’t consider that part of the story to be creepy, though. No, the creepy part is the shooter himself. I later learned much about him from the murder trial that would follow in the coming years. Though my encounter with this man was very brief, he has affected my life greatly. Just to know that people like this exist…is disturbing. He is certainly one twisted individual that I never want to see again.
I learned everything from watching the televised trial that took place in early 2015. This guy was going to school for neuroscience or something in California. I guess he was a pretty smart guy. However, for some reason he had an obsession with killing people and had a stalker mentality. After dropping out of his university, he moved to my state and chose my local theater to commit a mass shooting. Before that, he was planning on hiding along remote hiking trails up in the mountains, jumping people, pulling them into the woods and killing them there, though he never went through with that idea. He stalked my theater for months and had this shooting all planned out for the night of July 20th. Though I never saw him before this, its unnerving to think this guy could have been watching us every time we went to the theater, and we would have never known it. We were completely unaware of what he had planned against us. This completely ruined my sense of security, because who knows what the stranger next to you is planning on doing to you.
I came very close to the shooter, but I never actually saw his face in person until I was forced to testify in court. Of course I saw his mug shots on television, but while in the theater I only saw him as a dark silhouette in the shadows, like a demonic figure rendered from the darkest and most sinister nightmare. He was even in the hallway that we passed upon running for the emergency exit. The only thing stopping him from killing us there and then was his jammed assault rifle. To commit this crime, he ordered a few thousand rounds of ammunition, riot gear and armor, tear gas, an assault rifle, and a shotgun. He took pictures of himself, which were shown in court, wearing all of this gear like some sick trophy and holding up these weapons with a menacing smile. He dyed his hair orange and put in these creepy black contacts while making devilish faces into his camera, something that made me sick just looking at. Before driving to the theater with all of this gear in his car, he booby trapped his entire apartment and set it to explode if anyone opened the door. Then, once at the theater, he posed as a movie goer and even bought a ticket for the movie. I think his ticket had Theater 8 on it, which was next door, but Theater 9 had more people in it so he went into number 9 instead. He was in the few front rows. I must have passed him several times in the lobby while he was there. Maybe he had seen me, too. At some point during the movie, he got up and went through the side exit (which didn’t have an alarm for some reason), kept it propped open with something, then went to his car to put on all his armor and grabbed his weapons. Then, he came back inside and started shooting. When we escaped the theater, we ran past his white car which was parked right at the exit. We didn’t even notice it. At some point he came outside, and he would have seen us there on the concrete. I don’t know what stopped him from shooting people that were outside, too, but he could have easily ended us there and then if he wanted to.
I think the hardest part for me was facing this twisted individual in court. I’ll never forget rising as they called my name, walking down the center row past my family, other survivors, and crowds of news hungry media personnel. I sat right across from him, maybe only 10 feet away. While his orange hair was gone and he wasn’t wearing black contacts, being so close to him was a creepy and uncomfortable experience. My encounters with this man are certainly ones I will never forget. I can now say that I’ve come face to face with a true, deranged psychopath. He just had this blank stare in his eyes the whole time. If eyes truly are the windows to the soul, then his soul was filled with nothing but a cold indifference for those he had murdered and harmed. He wouldn’t even look at me. Sitting across from him in court was the second time I had knowingly been in the same room with this man. A man who had tried to take my life, but thankfully failed, a man who would end up spending forever behind bars when, at the end of it all, he was sentenced to 3,318 years in prison for his crimes.
This is to the man who tried to kill me. The man who has caused countless nightmares and fueled the fires of my paranoia. The man who hurt my friends and family, causing years of untold grief for my husband because he will never walk the same again. The man who stole the innocence and joy from a 6 year old child who went into that theater alive and came out dead. To the man who carried out the worst mass shooting in Colorado history, let’s not meet again. Ever. I hope you rot in prison.