Ahead of the 10th anniversary of the Aurora theater shooting, visiting the memorial with someone who lost a loved one

· Jul. 20, 2022, 4:00 am
Scenes at the 7/20 Memorial ahead of the 10th anniversary of the Aurora theater shooting.

A flood of emotion engulfs Heather Dearman as she steps outside her office at the 7/20 Memorial Foundation in Aurora, a nonprofit organization founded after the Aurora movie theater shooting 10 years ago.  

Twelve people were killed and at least 70 others injured when a gunman opened fire at a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” at the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora on July 20, 2012.

The youngest victim was Veronica Moser-Sullivan, the 6-year-old daughter of Dearman’s cousin, Ashley Moser, who herself was paralyzed and later lost her unborn child after being shot in the abdomen. 

Dearman says the anniversary of the tragedy that unfolded inside Theater 9 is especially hard for both those who were there and survived the shooting and those who lost loved ones.

The 7/20 Memorial Foundation hosts a series of events under the theme “Metamorphosis: Aurora Theater Shooting 10 Years Later.” A reflection ceremony is scheduled at 1:45 p.m, Saturday, July 23, on the Aurora Municipal Center Great Lawn located at 15151 E. Alameda Parkway. 

Scenes at the 7/20 Memorial ahead of the 10th anniversary of the Aurora theater shooting.

Dearman serves as Chief Executive Officer of the organization founded in 2018 with the mission of supporting communities in Colorado and beyond that have been impacted by mass violence, but the personal connection to this unthinkable tragedy is what drives her passion.

“It just gives me strength to know that there’s so much love when things like this happen,” Dearman said. “The reason that (the memorial is) here is horrible, but to me just being in this space, it gives you a feeling of comfort.”

The tears flow freely and her voice quivers as she takes us on a tour of the permanent memorial “Ascentiate,” a memorial garden located in the City of Aurora Municipal Center's Water-wise Reflection Garden. She pauses at each stop and shares something unique and special about each of those who were killed that day, like A.J. Boik.

“A.J. is some kind of a special, wonderful human being … he was friends with everyone,” Dearman said. “He had just graduated from Gateway High School and in the fall he was going to attend Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design. He wanted to be an art teacher.”

Scenes at the 7/20 Memorial ahead of the 10th anniversary of the Aurora theater shooting.

Along the garden's winding rock path are photos of each of the 12 people killed, emblazoned with the words “never forgotten.” Their pictures sit alongside large stone boulders, large enough for visitors to sit on and reflect on each life taken. Flowers planted alongside each one were personally selected by each victim’s loved ones.

“And here’s Jesse Childress and I alway love sending pictures of his stone to his mom because it seems like around him, he has the most vibrant, fullest flowers all year ‘round,” Dearman said. “And I just noticed those beautiful orange flowers over there and then these white ones, they weren’t there just two days ago.”

The garden culminates in a stunning sculpture featuring 70 white cranes in flight, representing those injured. The 13 uppermost cranes include translucent wings that glow in the sunlight and continue to rise upward, representing those killed, including Moser’s unborn child.

“The center flight stands tall speaking to the courage of the survivors and strength of the first responders and the surrounding cranes come from all directions as a statement of common unity,” according to the Foundation’s website.

Dearman says she hopes the garden provides comfort, peace, hope, and strength not only to those affected but to all who visit.

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