It was supposed to be a fun night out at the movies for a couple that was expecting their first child in a few days. Five years ago on Thursday, Caleb Medley and his wife, Katie, went to a late night screening of the latest Batman film. A gunman opened fire on the theater, killing 12 and wounding many others.
Katie and her unborn child escaped without injury. Caleb was shot in the face, leaving him paralyzed on his left side. Their oldest son "asks about what happened," she tells Colorado Matters. "I keep it brief to a bad guy hurt dad."
Caleb's injuries impaired his speech, so Katie helped with his responses in our interview. He says "people" are his biggest challenge because, as Katie says, "he feels like some people treat him like he's retarded because he's in a wheelchair and he doesn't speak as well.
Caleb was clear about the difference between the way the news media treats this anniversary, compared to how the survivors think of it. "The media makes it bigger and they just want a story," he says. Katie adds: "We live this every single day. As far as the families go, I think this has been an especially tough anniversary for everyone."
On what they've learned about marriage these last five years:
Caleb: "You never know what to expect."
Katie: "We got married young. And saying, 'till death do us part' and '[in sickness],' all of that; you don't think something like this will happen. It makes me rethink what those [words] mean. It's a lot deeper than people realize when they get married."
On what they tell their oldest son, who's almost 5, about that night:
Katie: "He asks about what happened to dad. I keep it brief to a bad guy hurt dad. When he gets older, we'll discuss it more with him. He just knows that dad got hurt and that's why he's in a wheelchair. As he's gotten older, he's started to notice the difference -- that [his] dad's not like all the other dads. So he has questions about that."
On what's been a big challenge:
Katie: "I think that Caleb gets frustrated because he feels like some people treat him like he's retarded because he's in a wheelchair and he doesn't speak as well. So I think that's a hard thing for Caleb, especially when he's always been such a social person... I don't think anybody means to treat him that way. I think they just don't know how to approach him."
On going to the movies now:
Katie: "[Caleb] really doesn't mind going to see a movie at all... It was, I want to say, over two years before I went back to a movie [theater]. Even now, I make sure that we usually go during the day. I don't go at night. And Caleb's saying, 'Or the premiere,' because that's kind of a sore point for us. We usually wait for a movie to be out for a week or two before we go see it. I don't like being in crowded places or a crowded theater because that night was so packed and it brings back a lot of memories for me."
On the significance the shooting's anniversary holds with the press versus the survivors:
Caleb: "The media makes it bigger and they just want a story."
Katie: "[For] a lot of media places, this is a story. For us, it's actual life. So that can be difficult for us. This may be a small segment for a lot of people, but for us, we live this every single day. As far as the families go, I think this has been an especially tough anniversary for everyone. I'm feeling it. I know a lot of the other families are feeling it. I don't know what it is about being five years, but I think it's significant... because, for a lot of us, it feels like a long time ago and also just like yesterday."
The 7/20 Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit commissioning and building a memorial to honor the victims and survivors of the mass shooting, will host two events to mark the fifth anniversary. Wednesday at 11:30 p.m., there will be a candlelight vigil and first responder procession at the 7/20 Reflection Memorial Garden outside Aurora's municipal building. On Thursday, from 4 - 7 p.m., the foundation will hold a gathering for the community at Baker Street Pub & Grill in Denver.