Contributed by Amy Joy Hess.
The tragedy of the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting carries with it a strange brew of emotions. There is anger and grief at the senseless murder of 12 people and the wounding of 58 others. The emotional injuries to the survivors and the victims’ families cannot be tallied, nor can the rise in fear across the country. At the same time, pride and admiration overflow at the heroism displayed by so many moviegoers, many of them young people working to save lives despite their sense they too might be killed. There is relief and gratitude at the stories of miraculous survival, and there is wonder as tales of forgiveness and great generosity come out.
Tragedy is mixed with blessing as the personal moments of the Colorado shooting are recounted. Three men, Jon Blunk, Matt McQuinn and Alex Teves were each killed because they flung themselves between the shooter and the women they loved. Samantha Yowler was saved by McQuinn’s quick reaction to throw himself on top of her when the shooting started. Her brother Nick Yowler helped her get away, but while Nick survived, McQuinn was fatally wounded. McQuinn was just a regular fellow, a young man who worked at Target. Yet he died a hero, giving up his life so that somebody else could live.
None of the deaths make any sense. Rebecca Wingo was a 32-year-old single mother with two young daughters. She attended Mile Hi Church in Lakewood, Colorado; she’s now with her Savior. Six-year-old Veronica Moser-Sullivan was shot and killed and her mother was seriously injured. The shooter made no distinction between young and old, male and female.
A 13-year-old girl named Kaylan called 9-1-1 while lying on the floor of the theater, trying to save the life of little Veronica Moser-Sullivan while expecting she herself would be shot. Veronica became the youngest victim of the murders while Kaylan survived. Yet, Kaylan herself is a different kind of victim; physically fine, but in mourning over the death of the little girl she once babysat, frightened by the sound of popping noises, disgusted by the sight of popcorn.
Kaylan’s church prayed over her after the shooting, putting her into the Lord’s hands. Her pastor called her a girl with a servant’s heart. Michael Walker, pastor of Church in the City, told CNN, “She’s the type of kid that would come in a room and say, ‘What can I do to help?’ You know, ‘How can I give of myself?’ I mean, in a young kid that really can’t be taught.”
The tragedy is mixed with many tales of heroism. Its darkness is also pierced repeatedly with shafts of mercy.
Twenty-two-year-old Petra Anderson was shot in the face, but a strange brain abnormality allowed the bullet to penetrate through her head without doing any serious injury to her brain. Anderson’s brain had a small channel running through it filled with fluid. The bullet that went up her nose hit that channel and surfed through her brain, missing the important parts. Anderson was shot several times and has multiple injuries, but she’s alive. She’s awake and able to talk to her mother, who is struggling with cancer.
“In Christianity we call it prevenient grace,” Brad Strait, senior pastor at Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church in Englewood, wrote on his blog this week. “God working ahead of time for a particular event in the future. It’s just like the God I follow to plan the route of a bullet through a brain long before Batman ever rises. Twenty-two years before.”
Katie Medley was 9 months pregnant when she and her husband Caleb went to the movies to enjoy their last date before their child made it to the outside world. Caleb was critically injured in the shooting and remains in a medically-induced coma while his body tries to heal. He’s still struggling to stay alive. Katie and her unborn baby escaped unharmed, however, and little Hugo Jackson Medley was born the morning of Tuesday, July 24. The family has no medical insurance, but since Friday, generous donors have given close to $100,000 to help with their medical expenses.
There have been as many reactions to the Colorado shootings as there were victims. Multitudes of Colorado residents immediately went out to apply for that concealed weapons permit they’d been meaning to get. Background checks for firearm purchases shot up 43 percent from the week before. King County in Washington had double the number of requests for concealed weapons permits compared to last year at the same time. People recognize that if a sociopath can enter a movie theater or a school classroom or a post office and randomly start shooting people, another shooter could appear anywhere. These people want to be prepared to stop a would-be killer before he can shred 70+ lives, whether he attacks at McDonalds or at the local mall.
“What they’re saying is: They want to have a chance. They want to have the ability to protect themselves and their families if they are in a situation like what happened in the movie theater,” noted Dick Rutan, owner of Gunners Den in Arvada, Colorado.
Others have called for stronger gun-control laws. NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg has used the shooting to call for the presidential candidates to get serious about gun violence. “I mean, there are so many murders with guns every day, it’s just got to stop,” Bloomberg said. Bloomberg has long been a vocal proponent of more gun control. After the Columbine shooting in 1999, Congress jumped to put stronger regulations in place, but the Senate and House Democrats do not seem eager to start a new fight right now.
Regardless their views on gun control, concerned people across America and the world have responded by seeking to help those harmed by the attack. The Aurora Victims Relief Fund was set up after the shooting to help the victims and their families. It had reached nearly $2 million by Tuesday morning.
“We are very grateful and encouraged by the support so far for the victims in Aurora,” Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said in a statement.
Finally, at least one young man’s reaction to the shooting has been one of forgiveness.
“There is evil in this world, and there is a darkness. There is an enemy, but the wonderful news is there is a Light, and there is a Light that shines brighter than the darkness ever imaginable,” Pierce O’Farrill told CBS reporter Erin Moriarty. O’Farrill had been shot multiple times in the attack, and he spoke from his hospital bed.
“This is going to be hard for people to understand, but I feel sorry for him,” O’Farrill continued, “When I think what that soul must be like to have that much hatred and that much anger in his heart—what every day must be like. I can’t imagine getting out of bed every morning and having that much anger and hatred for people that he undoubtedly has. I’m not angry at him. I’ll pray for him.” O’Farrill attends The Edge Church, a Baptist congregation in Aurora.
Whether or not the shooter deserves to be forgiven is not the issue. O’Farrill will have a number of physical scars from the shooting, scars that will last the rest of his life. By forgiving the shooter, however, O’Farrill has warded off deeper, dangerous emotional damage. He has embraced a spiritual healing that is exceptionally important, that could make all the difference in both O’Farrill’s life and the lives of everybody around him. It could even make an impact on the shooter himself.
While many have said they could not forgive the shooter, we have no doubt God longs to rescue that disturbed young man who has done so much great damage, just as He longs to rescue any one of us. Please continue to pray for all the victims of the shooting, for their healing in mind, heart, and body.