In Colorado shooting, some families get worst news
Barry Gutierrez / AP
Tom Sullivan holds a photograph of his son, Alex Sullivan, as he pleads with the media to help him find his son, outside Gateway High School Friday in Aurora, Colo.
Updated at 7:47 a.m. ET: A sports blogger who recently wrote about surviving a shooting in Canada. A man preparing to celebrate his first wedding anniversary. A young woman whose death announcement brought heartbreak, yet closure, to her family.
They were among the 12 people killed when a gunman barged into a crowded Colorado theater, set off a gas canister and opened fire as spectators dove for cover. Dozens of others were injured, including 11 in critical condition.
Alex Sullivan was supposed to be celebrating his 27th birthday Friday, beginning with a midnight screening of “Batman: The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colo.
“Oh man one hour till the movie and its going to be the best BIRTHDAY ever,” he tweeted before heading to the theater where a black-clad gunman wearing body armor opened fire, killing 12 people and injuring 58.
Late Friday, his family got confirmation of what they most dreaded: He was among the dead.
In Colorado and across the country, friends and family members of missing moviegoers anxiously awaited word on their loved ones, hoping for good news but fearing the worst.
The final bodies were removed from the theater a little after 5 p.m. Friday (7 p.m. ET), Aurora police chief Dan Oates said at a news conference. He said police met with about 70 family members and friends to give an accounting of bodies that had been identified.
Police said families of the dead were being notified Friday night.
Late Friday, Sullivan’s family said in a statement that he had been killed, the Denver Post and The Associated Press reported. Heart-wrenching photographs taken earlier Friday showed Sullivan’s father, Tom, grieving and pleading for information about his son.
“We’re still hoping that he’s missing somewhere and that they missed him at the hospital,” Jim Schwab, Sullivan’s cousin, told The Denver Post earlier Friday from his Rochester, N.Y., home, where he was gathered with 20 of Sullivan’s other relatives.
One victim, a 24-year-old aspiring sportcaster named Jessica Ghawi, was identified to the public by her brother.
Shooting victim Marcus Weaver talks with MSNBC’s Chris Jansing about the injuries he sustained during the Aurora shooting, and describes how he was forced to leave his injured friend behind.
As chaos from the rampage died down and wounded victims were transported to hospitals, Sullivan’s family and friends waited for word from him – but they heard nothing.
Armed with a photo of his son, Tom Sullivan, Alex’s dad, went to Gateway High School, which the town has turned into a makeshift crisis center.
“Find my son!” he yelled from the parking lot, reported Bloomberg News.
Micayla Medek, 23, was also among the dead, her father’s cousin, Anita Busch, told The Associated Press.
Busch said the news, while heartbreaking, was a relief for the family after an agonizing day of waiting for news.
“I hope this evil act … doesn’t shake people’s faith in God,” she said.
Matt McQuinn was among those dead, Aurora police confirmed to the Dayton, Ohio, CBS affiliate WHIO-TV. He was from nearby St. Paris, Ohio, and had reportedly died shielding his girlfriend, Samantha Yowler.
Yowler underwent surgery after taking a bullet to her leg, The Denver Post reported.
Rosemary Ratcliff was waiting to hear from her son. She told The New York Times that she believes her son Abdullah, 17, went to the midnight show.
“I haven’t heard from him, and none of his friends are picking up their phones,” she told The Times from Gateway High School.
After barely escaping a mall shooting last month, aspiring sports reporter Jessica Ghawi did not survive the theater shooting. Her brother spoke to reporters about her remarkable spirit. NBC’s Kristen Dahlgren reports.
In Crystal Lake, Ill., another family spent Friday making desperate phone calls about their son.
John Larimer, who is stationed with the U.S. Navy in Aurora, was in the theater last night, his dad told The Chicago Sun-Times.
“We have literally been calling for 15 hours,” his father, Scott Larimer, told The Sun-Times from his home in Crystal Lake. “We cannot get any help from the military, the police, the hospitals, the Red Cross. … We cannot get a single answer if he is alive or dead. … We are more than frantic.”
Defense officials told NBC News one sailor was missing and presumed dead in the shooting spree. Another sailor and two airmen were wounded in the shooting rampage. The names of the missing and injured were not released.
Those who made it out of the movie described a scene of confusion when the alleged gunman, identified as 24-year-old James Eagan Holmes, appeared at the front of the theater at 12:39 a.m. (2:39 a.m. ET).
“He shot the ceiling and then “he threw in the gas can, and then I knew it was real,” witness Jennifer Seeger told TODAY.
Tanner Coon, who was in the theater with a friend and the friend’s 12-year-old brother, said the shooter fired about 20 rounds and then paused, giving him time to escape.
“I slipped on some blood and landed on a lady. I shook her and said, ‘We need to go.’ There was no response, so I presume she was dead,” he said.
Aurora is a suburb less than 10 miles east of Denver, with a population of about 333,000 people, just 15 miles northeast of Columbine High School, seen of the 1999 massacre in which two gunmen killed 12 fellow students and a teacher and wounded 26 others before taking their own lives.
The Red Cross has set up a Safe and Well list where victims can list themselves to let their relatives know they’re alive. You can view the list here.
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