AURORA, Colo. — These days, Theresa Hoover describes her life as "before AJ" and "after AJ."
“It doesn’t feel like 10 years. It feels like yesterday,” Hoover said. “I know I’ve grown a lot in the 10 years. But really, what does 10 years feel like?”
Hoover said sometimes a decade seems like a few days and sometimes it’s as if 20 years have passed. “It changed everything 10 years ago,” she said. “It’s not just turning a page but reading a whole new book.”
Jessica Ghawi (also known as Jessica Redfield), 24
Alexander C. Teves, 24
Jonathan Blunk, 26
John Larimer, 27
Matt McQuinn, 27
Alex Sullivan, 27
Jesse Childress, 29
Rebecca Wingo, 32
Gordon Cowden, 51
“Today, AJ would be 28. He would be a ceramics teacher, probably at Gateway [High School] with the teacher who he wanted to work with when he got out of Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design. He would probably be a daddy. He would probably be a husband,” Hoover said, starting to tear up.
Aurora Theater Shooting: 10 Years Later
During her interview with Rocky Mountain PBS, Hoover sat on a small hill overlooking the 7/20 memorial, a sculpture and plant garden created to remember the victims of the shooting. It’s tough for her to find the words to describe how she felt when she found out about her son’s death.
“All of the life went out of me; it went quiet and then all there was sobbing. We got a day of grieving and then we went to pick out and decide what parents don’t want to pick out for their kids,” she recalled.
For Heather Dearman and her family, 13 lives were lost in the shooting. “My cousin Ashley was at the theater that night and she was shot, and she miscarried and was pregnant at the time. She’s now a paraplegic and her six-year-old daughter Veronica was there with her, and Veronica was shot as well but didn’t make it,” she explained.
Dearman is the CEO of the 7/20 memorial foundation. “I come to the garden on the 20th and I feel like it’s my peaceful day to come up for air and breathe for a minute and think about Veronica and all of our 13 angels and them being up there and saying ‘We’re so happy [about] what our family members and board members [of the 7/20 foundation] have done and we appreciate that you celebrated our lives,’” said Dearman.
The memorial has pictures of each person who died in the shooting that day. But Dearman feels that the memorial garden is for more than those who lost their lives in the shooting. It’s also for the survivors.
“I would say there are hundreds of survivors. The family members and the loved ones and friends. Beyond that there’s another ripple effect and that is those who were in the theater and not injured, or people who had a ticket that night and didn’t make it. We hear those stories all the time and you can tell it affects them too. Our entire community. People who worked at the city, they came together. The first responders, of course they were our heroes the night,” she added.
7/20 means different things for each of these women. Hoover wants people to know the trauma never really goes away.
“I’ve got PTSD from it,” she said. “I’m a member of a club no one wants to be a part of. I wish more people would understand the pain and maybe stop some of the violence that’s happening all around us. Every time there’s a shooting, I relive that day and what it feels like to be a mom who lost her son and that’s the worst kind of club to be invited to.”
Dearman believes that for herself and many survivors, July 20 is a day to formally pause and find some peace, if possible. “Today we remember those 13 lives and we hold their families and loved ones in our hearts as we say their names and think of them and we can honor them by being kind to another human being or just being kind to yourself,” she said.
Dana Knowles is a multimedia journalist at Rocky Mountain PBS and can be reached at email@example.com.
Brian Willie is the content production manager at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.