A Denver-born composer survives Aurora theater shooting
Petra Hogan would rather make music than headlines.
The 24-year-old graduate student in music at the University of Maryland, the composer, violinist and pianist knows she can never forget the night of July 20, 2012. In an instant, Hogan became a statistic -- one of 58 people injured in the Aurora Century 16 movie theater shooting, which left 12 dead.
But it was the nature of her injury that quickly made news around the world.
In addition to three shotgun pellets that hit her arm, Hogan received a single pellet that entered through her nose, pierced her skull and traveled nearly completely through her brain.
The musician not only survived -- much to the amazement of the doctors who first treated her -- but she has since almost completely recovered from her injuries.
“Slowly but surely, it’s getting better,” Hogan says. “I have some trouble recalling things. I have had to deal with the effects of the injury I incurred -- aphasia. And that causes trouble speaking sometimes.”
Newly married to her longtime beau Austin Hogan, a clarinetist she met in college, Hogan’s life has become remarkably normal, apart from occasional difficulties in speaking or remembering things.
But life was challenging for her even before the shooting, as Hogan explained during an interview in advance of a series of upcoming concerts on May 9 and 10 given by the Colorado Chamber Players, in which one of her works for solo clarinet, “Rashim,” will be performed by composer and clarinetist Derek Bermel.
Two years ago, Hogan -- then Petra Anderson -- was a recent graduate of the music conservatory at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California.
It was summer, and she’d made plans to travel to the Bowdoin Music Festival in Maine, where a year before she had finished composing “Rashim” as a graduation gift to Austin Hogan.
At Bowdoin in 2011, she studied with Bermel, and planned on returning for more work with the composer.
But her mother had become seriously ill with the breast cancer she’d long been battling. Petra decided to stay with her mother in Denver for a month, before heading back to Maine.
At the fateful midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises,” during her stay in Colorado, the pellet that entered Hogan’s head traveled along a fluid, canal-like path that separates parts of the brain, thus missing crucial blood vessels as well as segments of the brain itself.
Though seriously wounded, Hogan was able to run into the theater’s parking lot without even realizing the extent of her injury.
Petra spent a week in intensive care, during which the pellet was surgically removed, and another two weeks at Spalding Rehabilitation Hospital in Denver.
Friends and family members rejoiced at her recovery. But her medical bills began to pile up, and her sister Chloe made a plea for contributions.
Then, five weeks after the shooting and 10 days after Hogan was discharged from Spalding, her mother passed away.
Somehow, Hogan carried on.
“Whenever you go through a dramatic event like a shooting and then you endure another one -- losing your mother -- you come out different,” Hogan says. “I’ve grown through this, but it’s been a tough road.”
She gives much of the credit for her recovery to her husband, Austin, who immediately flew in from San Francisco when he received word of his partner’s injury.
“He was the rock I could count on,” Hogan says. “His presence was an incredible gift.”
The couple married in an Englewood church on March 2 last year, and both are continuing their music studies at the University of Maryland.
As her mental faculties continued to improve, Hogan returned to composing. But it wasn’t easy.
“If my brain is a library, it’s like an earthquake hit, causing all the books to fall on the floor,” Hogans says. “They’re all still there, but I’ve got to organize them and get them back on the shelf. Writing music now lasts four to five times longer than it did.”
“Rashim,” a 10-minute solo, follows a non-Western path. The title is the Indian term for “ray of sunlight.” The piece is part of a program built around Bermel’s week-long residency with the Colorado Chamber Players. The program includes three of his works, in addition to Brahms’ “Clarinet Quintet” and “Rashim.”
“I’d always loved listening to Indian music,” Hogan says. “The piece is all about the sun rising -- the sun’s coming up on a new day, with new possibilities.”
Derek Bermel and the Colorado Chamber Players will present a full concert at St. John’s Cathedral, 1350 S. Washington St. in Denver, at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 9. The following day, Bermel and the Players will perform excerpts from that program in a free mini-concert at 11 a.m. at the Boulder Public Library, 1001 Arapahoe Ave., and in a gala concert at 7 p.m. that evening in Opus Two Hall, 9167 Davidson Way, Lafayette. For more information: (303) 355-2224 or coloradochamberplayers.org.
Marc Shulgold is a freelance writer, teacher and lecturer. He was previously the longtime music and dance writer at the Rocky Mountain News.