On July 19, 2012, Alex Sullivan went to the movies in Aurora, Colo., to celebrate his 27th birthday. It was a tradition of his since childhood.
That night, he and a group of friends planned to see a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises, the latest Batman film. As the movie started, so did Alex’s birthday — July 20. But a half hour into the film, a gunman opened fire into the audience and killed 12, including Alex.
Alex’s parents, Tom and Terry Sullivan, remember how happy their son was before the movie.
“They got there at like 5 o’clock in the afternoon to save seats for everybody,” Tom says. “Alex had bought himself a Batman hat and he was in line, palling around with this little boy, who I think was like 12. And before they went into the movie, Alex gave him the Batman hat.”
Alex just wanted to make everybody happy, Terry says, and that included making others laugh.
“That night one of the previews was for the new Superman movie,” Tom says. “When that preview came on, Alex stood up out of his seat and started cheering and a lot of people laughed. You know, we can take some comfort in the fact that Alex was the one who gave these people their last laughs.”
After they found out about the shooting, Tom called his mother, Alex’s grandmother, and told her what happened.
“That was the first time I ever heard her cry,” Tom says. “The day he was born I told her from the hospital that she had a grandson, and then 27 years to the day, I had to call her again and tell her that her grandson had been murdered.”
Despite the pain of losing their son, both Tom and Terry went to the reopening of the theater a year after the shooting. Since then, Tom says, they’ve gone back many times.
“We’ll go and sit in Alex’s seat that he was murdered in. You know, row 12, seat 12.”
Last year was the first time they went back on the day Alex was killed. It would have been his 31st birthday.
“I remember saying, we’re gonna celebrate Alex’s birthday the way that we always have,” Tom says. “That’s where he was and that’s where we will always be. That’ll never stop.”
Produced for by Liyna Anwar.
StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.