I’ll always remember July 20, 2012, as one of the longest days of my life.
I went to the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises with my friend Rebecca Wingo, whom I’d only known for a month. Theater nine, fifth row—great seats. About 10 minutes in, I saw this white spray and heard a thunderous bam bam bam. Once it started, it didn’t stop. Rebecca stopped moving, and I couldn’t do anything to get her out, so I ran toward the doors. Cops were coming in with guns. When I finally made it to the parking lot, they promised me everybody would be evacuated. A little girl told me I was bleeding. I looked down and saw two holes in my right arm.
I kept praying that Rebecca had also survived, but I found out the next night that she hadn’t. It was a dark time. I had conversations with the Lord: Why did you let me live and not her? How could I have saved people? I eventually went to see a therapist, and she gave me this wonderful piece of advice: “God gives everybody free will to do whatever they want. That shooter had free will to do whatever he wanted. You couldn’t have done anything. You’re lucky to be alive. Do something with that.”
I realized then that I could be a light in the darkness. I started speaking at churches and prisons around the country. I wanted to do something in Rebecca’s honor, so a group of us started a coffeeshop for homeless teens, something Rebecca had wanted to do. I now help run a national ministry called ABC Ministries International. And I started doing a radio show—Changed People, Changing Lives—that’s on every Sunday.
It’s strange: It’s almost like someone plucked me out of that theater and then set me back down to do all these things. I’ve been to places and done things I never imagined I would do.
In September, about 45 days after the shooting, I went to the Squire Lounge on a Friday night to do karaoke. I looked over and there was this girl named Megan Sharp; we recognized each other from church. She called me a few times, and a week later we went on a date. On March 1 of this year, we got married. She’s helped me to process everything I’ve been through over the past year.
Some days are better than others, but I still have nightmares. I’ll wake up suddenly between 1 and 3 a.m. with this fear in my stomach. I suffer from memory loss. And I still hate being in crowds. As a man of faith, though, I said early on that I would eventually forgive him, and I have.
I was determined not to let the shooting ruin my love of movies. Going to the theater has always been a source of enjoyment for me. The first time I went back, it was to see The Dark Knight Rises. It was showing in theater number nine even though it was a different Cineplex. What are the odds? There were forces trying to work against me, but I stayed. I looked at the exits—I always do that now. I watch people’s movements, and I think everyone else does, too. And when I say goodbye to people, I give them a hug—because you never know.
Read other stories on the Aurora theater shooting here.