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Brewing memories of 'a great individual' lost in the Aurora theater shooting

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AURORA, Colo. — “Here's to AJ's Haze,” the loved ones of Alexander Jonathan “AJ” Boik said in unison, clinking glasses of beer.

They gathered at Six Capital Brewing in Aurora recently to craft a special tribute to a young man killed in the Aurora theater massacre a decade ago.

AJ “was the center of our world,” his mother, Theresa Hoover, told Rocky Mountain PBS.

“We could always pull out a picture of AJ and remember (him) before the shooting,” she said. “But why not keep him in our hearts and remember him through something good that our family is creating together?”

That "something good" is a special batch of India pale ale. After batting around names for the memorial beer, the group settled on AJ’s Haze.

AJ was just 18 when death came during a movie date with his girlfriend. He was fresh out of Gateway High School, where he was first-chair viola in the school orchestra and played baseball. A family photo shows a shaggy-haired AJ smiling, with a hint of a beard, gazing optimistically upward.

He was one of 12 people killed by a heavily armed intruder at a midnight movie screening on July 20, 2012; 70 were injured. AJ’s girlfriend survived with just scratches, but was covered in her boyfriend’s blood after trying to help him. The gunman, arrested shortly after the massacre, was convicted in 2015 and sentenced to 12 life prison sentences plus 3,318 years.

At AJ’s funeral a week later, he lay in an open casket. Placed atop his body was his certificate of admission at Rocky Mountain College of Art & Design, where he was to have started classes that fall. Many of his Gateway classmates and other mourners wore purple, AJ’s favorite color.

Speakers at the service talked of the young man’s smile. “He has passed on so much joy to us all,” AJ’s uncle, John Hoover, told the mourners. “… He was willing to do anything to make someone laugh. What he really brought to the world was goodness.”

‘A way to remember’

The young man’s memory hung in the air recently as his family gathered to make 93 gallons of AJ’s Haze.

The IPA should be ready and available at Six Capital — at 16701 E. Iliff Ave. near South Buckley Road in Aurora — on July 14 at 5 p.m., the brewery said. It plans to donate proceeds from the beer to the 7/20 Foundation. That’s a nonprofit that created a memorial to the theater-shooting victims, their families and first responders outside the Aurora Municipal Center, and which now works to support communities elsewhere that have experienced mass violence.

“AJ's Haze means a ton for us,” said Blake Butler, owner of Six Capital Brewing. “It's a way to remember and honor a great individual and their family that's here today. It's also a way to shed light on the 7/20 Foundation, too, and to let people know (that) we're still here, we still remember, we're still going to be out there speaking their names, giving them a voice, when they're no longer with us to have that voice.”

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Six Capital plans to make two kegs of AJ’s Haze available for the foundation’s “Metamorphosis” event marking the tragedy’s 10th anniversary. The event — taking place July 23 at the municipal center, at 15151 E. Alameda Pkwy. — will include a beer garden as well as a 5K run, reflection ceremony and live bands. (You can purchase a wristband for the beer garden in advance here.)

Theresa Hoover said the beer project was spurred by the mass shooting on May 24 at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, which left 19 students and two teachers dead. After that, “I was struggling bad,” she said.

After a discussion with Heather Dearman, CEO of the 7/20 Foundation, the beer-making plan was launched.

“This is something good that everybody will enjoy, and everybody can remember AJ in happier times,” Hoover said.

In addition to AJ, those killed or fatally wounded in the Aurora theater shooting were Jonathan Thomas Blunk, Jesse Childress, Gordon Cowden, Jessica Ghawi, John Larimer, Matthew McQuinn, Micayla Medek, Veronica Moser-Sullivan, Alex Sullivan, Alexander Teves and Rebecca Wingo. Also, a pregnant woman, Ashley Moser — who was paralyzed in the shooting and whose 6-year-old daughter, Veronica, was killed — suffered a miscarriage during surgery.

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