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Photograph by Dana Romanoff

Running for Alex: How Tom Sullivan Turned Tragedy Into a Political Crusade

What do you do six years after your eldest child is murdered in one of the worst mass shootings in American history? If you're Tom Sullivan, you channel your anger and sorrow into an unlikely campaign for political office.

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A few days after their son was murdered in an Aurora movie theater, the letters began showing up at the Sullivans’ home. Some envelopes had the family’s house number and street written on them, others only a name and a city; still more were simply addressed to the “Parents of Alex Sullivan.” Even those made it: The mail carrier would place them in the mailbox or stack them neatly on the doorstep. Dozens of letters and cards arrived, then hundreds, then nearly 1,000.

Tom Sullivan kept them on the worn wooden table in the dining room, near the front door. When the cards and letters covered every square inch of the table, he gathered them and stored them in three boxes. He eventually put the boxes on a shelf in an upstairs closet next to his son’s childhood bedroom, where comic books are spread on the floor and Batman drawings are framed and hanging on the walls.

Six years after his son’s death, Tom cannot imagine throwing away even one letter. In his worst moments, each is a lifeline, a crutch, a hand reaching out in the darkness. The cards and folded pieces of paper are placed neatly in the boxes, like an old library’s card catalog. Slide open the closet’s white doors, grab a bundle, and read.

Tom and Terry Sullivan look over the condolence cards they received after Alex was murdered. Photograph by Dana Romanoff

Dear Tom and Terry….

They came from Colorado and California and New York and all the places in between. Some notes are typed. Some are written in bubbly cursive, others in slanted print. Every one of them is from a real person, and each, in its own way, tells a story of the aftermath of yet another mass shooting in America.

Now, all these years later, Tom is holding some of the letters and cards in his hands. His campaign manager just finished a cigarette on the patio and is ready to get back to work. There are more donor calls to be made this afternoon, a $500 goal to meet before knocking on 70 doors tonight.

I’m so sorry for your loss. My thoughts and prayers are with your family

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The notes are from parents and children, men and women, former co-workers and strangers.

Senseless acts such as this are just that: senseless. How can any of us accept what is unacceptable? We will never have answers. We just move forward in our lives, one day at a time, Tom. One day, one moment, one minute at a time.

He pulls a large envelope off the shelf. He reaches inside and small purple and silver ribbons spill out. Some have Alex’s name written on them in black marker. There are Christmas cards inside the package, sent nearly six years ago from a fourth-grade class in Del Mar, California. Their teacher added a handwritten note. Tom reads it out loud.

I can’t fathom how you are feeling this holiday season, he begins. You are in my thoughts and prayers. May the love of your friends and family get you through. His voice quavers. His broad face is flush. He sighs and squeezes his eyes shut.

He knows how many Fridays have passed since Alex was killed, along with 11 others inside the Century Aurora 16 theater on July 20, 2012. Tom knows how many days he’s been without Alex, how many weekends since their last trip to Las Vegas, where they smoked cigars and drank Jameson on ice. It was Alex’s birthday the night he was murdered; six birthdays have come and gone. Alex would be 33 today.

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“Please don’t just say my son died,” Tom tells me at his dining room table this past spring, a few weeks after announcing his run for a seat in the Colorado House of Representatives. His voice is usually a friendly, breathless Upstate New York whine, but when he’s speaking seriously, his words drop to a near whisper. “Alex was not taken,” he continues, his mouth carefully enunciating each word. “He was not lost. He did not pass away. My son was murdered.”

Since Alex was murdered, Tom has come to despise the antiseptic way we discuss gun violence in America—cheap and bloodless, moments stripped of their terrible power by the singular simplicity of their descriptions. A shooting. When others might have flinched, Tom spent the past six years facing down his terror, reliving the fraction of a second it took for a bullet to end Alex’s life, asking how four powerful weapons got into his son’s killer’s hands. Tom has studied the crime-scene photos taken inside theater nine, thought about those two-and-a-half minutes of gunfire, about those who died and the 58 others who were shot but who managed to make it out alive.

He saw the investigative photo of Alex facedown on the carpet, which helped him feel connected to his son’s last moment. When Megan, Alex’s younger sister, noticed his shirt was red, Tom asked an investigator if it was soaked in blood. (It was not.) Tom returned to the theater with his wife, Terry, and sat in the seat where his son was murdered: row 12, seat 12.

Rather than running from his pain, Tom embraced it. “Every one of us who suffered through the shooting went from a normal life to redefining who and what we are,” says Sandy Phillips, whose daughter, Jessica Ghawi, died inside the theater. “In Tom’s case, he became a warrior.”

He does not look like one. He is 62, a former postal worker and Air Force veteran with an ample belly, a salt-and-pepper goatee, and a wreath of gray hair cradling a splotchy, pink pate. His eyes are steel blue. He could be your neighbor, an everyman who left middle age in the rear-view mirror and slipped into retirement with his wife, a bus driver for the Cherry Creek School District.

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Instead, he attended rallies. He met President Barack Obama. He visited the state Capitol more than 20 times to testify about laws designed to keep guns away from the mentally ill and to limit the size of semi-automatic weapons’ magazines. When Tom grew tired of watching lawmakers stare at their phones when he spoke to them, he decided to put a face to his pain.

Tom slides a postcard across the table. On it are five photos of Alex at different ages—with a cake at his sixth birthday; with an arm draped over Megan. Alex was an enormous man—six-foot-five, nearly 300 pounds—and Tom loves talking about his son’s size. Yet he’s hardly imposing in the photos; he’s carefree and happy, a wide grin spread across his cherubic face. Printed below the photos, in block type, are the words “Alex Sullivan Murdered Aurora Theater Massacre 7-20-2012.”

“Politicians can ignore me, but I’ve dared them to ignore him,” Tom says, pointing to a photo of Alex peeking from behind a tree. He got the card idea from families of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, where 20 children were killed less than five months after the Aurora murders. Those parents handed out photos of their dead sons and daughters to members of Congress when they spoke in Washington, D.C. Tom and Terry picked out the five photos of Alex, and Terry took them to Walgreens to order the first batch of 200 cards. “I didn’t know if I could do it,” she admits, “but I needed to, for Tom.” The woman taking Terry’s order looked at the photos and read the text. She broke into tears and gave Terry a couple hundred copies for free.

In the years that followed Alex’s murder, Tom read the police report, went to court hearings, and sat through the trial with his wife. “I think I’m one of those guys, one of those who has the Peter Pan syndrome, one of the guys who never wants to grow up,” he said during the victim-impact portion of the killer’s death sentence hearing. “On the morning he was murdered, I was forced then to have to grow up. And, so then from this point on, all I’m doing is getting older.”

Minute by minute, the gulf between Tom’s life today and the memory of his son is widening. He takes special joy in the Facebook photos Alex’s friends post, ones he has never seen. He craves small details: how, before The Dark Knight began, Alex gave away his Batman hat to a little boy. How the boy kept the hat after the shooting. How Alex cheered during a preview for the upcoming installment of Superman, sparking laughter throughout theater nine. How, at 12:38 a.m., while several of his friends ducked behind the seats in front of them, Alex was staring at the screen, captivated by the movie. “What are you doing?” he asked, perturbed at the distraction. A single bullet entered the right side of Alex’s body. It tore through his kidney, a lung, and his heart and exited out the lower part of his neck.

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Tom drove to the Arapahoe County Coroner’s Office the next day. Alex’s body was resting on a stainless steel gurney, a blanket pulled to his neck. “He was a purplish color,” Tom says. “You could only see his head, but I was glad. I knew we could have an open-casket funeral.”

He leaned over his son. “Mom was worried,” he whispered. “We’ll see you again.”

Tom holds one of the postcards with Alex’s photos and stares at it. By the next legislative session in January, he hopes state lawmakers will no longer be able to hide behind their phones when he speaks. “Running for office—that’s not going to bring Alex back,” he says. “I have one child now, and I have to make the world a better place for her.” The problem for Tom, and the rest of the nation, is there are new Tom and Terry Sullivans created each week—from the mass shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and the Pulse nightclub and in Connecticut and Oregon and Texas and Las Vegas. They are mothers and fathers and husbands and wives and brothers and sisters who got calls one day telling them everything had suddenly changed and who found themselves driving to coroners’ offices in tears, praying they’d be able to hold open-casket funerals.

On his last day of work at the post office on that July day in 2012, Tom got an early morning call from Terry and rushed to Gateway High School, where dozens of families were gathering, waiting to hear if their loved ones had survived. Tom stood outside the school, and when his wife and daughter arrived, he threw his arms around them and sobbed. A photo of the moment made the front page of the Denver Post the next morning, and the image of his agony instantly became the latest symbol of the grief caused by mass shootings in America.

In the days and weeks that followed, hundreds of people showed up at the modest two-story house Tom and Terry had owned for nearly three decades in Centennial. The stream of family and friends was both comforting and overwhelming; Tom walked around his backyard, passing the other grieving faces like a ghost.

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The visits slowed after a couple of weeks, but when Terry stepped outside their home, she felt the stares and heard the whispers. Megan would pull out her credit card and notice tears welling in cashiers’ eyes when they saw her name. Tom couldn’t leave the house without someone recognizing him from the newspaper photo. Neighbors were hesitant to come by, uncomfortable with the discussions they might have. “I don’t know what to say to you,” one of Terry’s friends confessed. Around the house where they’d raised their kids and had family dinners and hosted parties in their yard, there was mostly silence.

Terry has quietly supported Tom’s foray into politics. Photograph by Dana Romanoff

Terry and Tom promised each other they wouldn’t let their marriage crack under the stress of Alex’s death. They’d heard about relationships that broke apart after events like this—the blame, the depression, the psychological distance something like this can create. They worried about those things, so they made simple rules to guide them. They could yell, but it would be done in private, always upstairs in their bedroom where no one else could hear. They could disagree, but they needed to work it out. Those moments would never leave the room. Every other part of their lives, every other second, would be about supporting and loving each other, sticking together.

Family and friends marvel at their closeness, the tenderness between them, the way Terry subtly rolls her eyes and smiles when Tom is talking about a really great vintage baseball card; the way Tom smirks when his wife says she wants to redecorate yet another room, even though she hasn’t quite finished other projects around the house. “She means everything to me,” Tom says.

“We decided long ago we were going to stay ahold of one another,” says Terry, who is 61 and met Tom in New York when she was in the sixth grade. “We’ve backed each other regardless of how different we may have handled this. Tom is more outgoing. I’m quiet. Tom has had the better voice in this. He’s put himself out there. I need to be there for him.”

The Aurora massacre set a grim record six years ago: the most people injured—70—in a single mass shooting in the United States. Twenty-six people were murdered and two were injured in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that December. “People were dying because of political inaction,” Tom says. “We didn’t have our son anymore, but nobody learned from it. It was like it didn’t matter.” In 2013, he worked with a small group of families whose children were killed in Aurora, Newtown, and Columbine and helped state Democrats push for tighter gun-control measures in the Colorado General Assembly. He soon went to events, met legislators in their offices, and learned to give a tight, two-minute public testimony.

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Tom Sullivan meeting a potential voter while campaigning. Photograph by Dana Romanoff

Despite pressure from the National Rifle Association and opposition among state-level Republicans, Tom watched as stricter laws were enacted across Colorado, including universal background checks and a ban on magazines of more than 15 rounds. As a result of the frankness with which he talked about his son’s murder—and the poignancy of his personal story—Tom was able to transform himself into one of the nation’s most vocal and important nonpoliticians in the debate on gun safety. “He’s taken that grief and channeled it into a constructive effort,” says Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. “Tom’s convictions are so deeply held. He’s spent so much time, not just thinking, but feeling. That creates a different type of person. There’s a depth in him you don’t see very often in life.”

Before one legislative hearing in Denver, a gun rights advocate stepped in front of Jane Dougherty, a Littleton dressmaker whose sister, Mary Sherlach, was killed in the Newtown shootings. The man, wearing NRA buttons pinned to his jacket, loudly exclaimed to Dougherty that her sister—a school psychologist—would have lived had she been allowed to carry a weapon at school. As Dougherty yelled at the man to get away, Tom stepped in front of her, shielding her. Instead of letting his anger get to him, he called for security. “Tom became Superman that day,” Dougherty says. “He’s an absolute powerhouse. He’s sweet and sensitive, but when it comes time to get work done, you do not want to be in his way.”

Most recently, Tom testified against an effort to roll back the 2013 gun control measures; state Senate Republicans were attempting to expand concealed-carry rights in Colorado. The measure failed. He’s also spoken in favor of a so-called “red flag” state law that would allow law enforcement or family members to seek court orders to temporarily restrict firearms access for people who they believe pose a danger to themselves or to others. An independent poll this past spring showed eight out of 10 Coloradans supported the idea. After passing through the Democrat-controlled state House, the bill was rejected in committee in the Republican-controlled Senate. “I know the impact of something like this, to have a son murdered, to go through what I’ve had to go through,” Tom says. “I’m doing this so no one else has to deal with that pain. Why should another father have to bury his kid? People have been waiting decades for action, and here we are, still playing defense on the small gains we’ve made and constantly fighting to get common-sense laws passed that most Coloradans want. This is insane.”

Tom Sullivan’s first run for elected office came in 2016, when, as a Democrat, he lost a bid for the state Senate seat in District 27, which includes his neighborhood near Smoky Hill High School, in southwest Arapahoe County. He ran mostly on his successes with gun control legislation, which gained even more attention following the deaths of 49 people in June 2016 at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. For state Democrats who helped Tom fund and staff his race, the takeaway wasn’t necessarily the loss itself. He’d raised roughly $160,000—not enough to win a Colorado Senate seat where candidates often need $200,000 or more to field a competitive campaign, but enough to be viable in a much smaller state House race. Despite his financial shortcomings, he lost by around six-and-a-half points in a district that ran plus-10 for the Republican in the previous election.

One morning this past January, Tom met with Matthew McGovern, the executive director of the House Majority Project, a Democrat-run initiative, in Denver. Over coffee, they discussed Colorado House District 37, the political red zone where Tom lives. The district’s 53,000 or so registered voters span parts of Aurora, Centennial, and Englewood and are currently represented by Cole Wist, a 55-year-old Georgetown-educated attorney and two-and-a-half-year legislative veteran who serves as the GOP’s assistant House minority leader. Since the 37th was redrawn in 2012, Republican candidates haven’t lost.

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As part of his job to maintain and expand Democratic control in the state House—where Democrats hold a 36 to 29 advantage—McGovern wanted to field and help fund candidates who could run competitive races in districts that had previously been seen as unwinnable. While the 37th, on its face, didn’t seem to favor a Democrat, McGovern saw signs the seat was ripe for a takeover. Chief among them: The district has roughly 3,000 more registered Republican voters than Democratic registered voters but favored Hillary Clinton over eventual President Donald Trump by more than six percentage points in 2016. History also suggests that unpopular incumbent presidents often hurt same-party state legislative candidates. Trump’s seemingly endless scandals, diplomatic miscues, and flaccid popularity had created an opening.

In the House race, McGovern explained to Tom, they would need to target moderate Republicans and the district’s 19,900 unaffiliated voters (who make up more than one-third of the 37th’s eligible voters). Doing that would mean putting together an early ground game that included thousands of constituent mailings, door-knocking, and near-nightly contribution solicitations to reach at least $120,000 to keep the campaign funded and competitive up to Election Day.

Tom canvassing in his district, which leans Republican. Photograph by Dana Romanoff

The race for the 37th is one of just a few contests for Republican-controlled state House seats that Democrats intend to heavily staff with volunteers this cycle. By summer—with Sullivan holding an early fundraising lead over Wist—McGovern recommended a campaign manager and a field director. “The party thoroughly believes he can win this,” McGovern says. “This isn’t going to be a run just to run. Tom is ready to kick ass.”

Perhaps sensing his own vulnerability, Wist has made a concerted effort to work across the aisle. During a slew of sexual harassment allegations at the state Capitol this past year, Wist was among the first Republican leaders to support ousting accused Representative Steve Lebsock. Wist co-sponsored a red flag bill with Democrat assistant majority leader Alec Garnett—a move that temporarily put Wist’s leadership position within his caucus in doubt—and also co-sponsored a new law that requires Colorado prison officials to let prosecutors and victims’ families know the whereabouts of most inmates who are relocated outside the state. Tom testified in favor of both bills. Speaking to the Denver Post after Tom’s campaign announcement, Wist said he respected his competitor but that a singular focus on guns didn’t lend itself to “addressing the broad issues of our state.”

“I’m a regular guy who had something awful happen to me and my family,” Tom says, defending his focus. “I care about jobs and living wages and making homeownership more than a dream for people who want it. But it’s not my fault if I’m associated with gun violence, because that’s how people have gotten to know me. I wouldn’t be in this position if Alex hadn’t been my son.”

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Campaign materials, including a pin with a photo of Alex. Photograph by Dana Romanoff

Inside his house, Tom moves up the stairs to the makeshift campaign center he’s created next to Alex’s old room. Piles of “Tom Sullivan For Colorado” buttons and constituent mailers are stacked on a folding table. (“Tom and his wife raised their two kids here. Tom’s son Alex was murdered in a mass shooting. Tom makes no apologies for where he stands on making our community safer,” one reads.) Taped on one wall is a map of the 37th district, which spills, from east to west, over Centennial Airport and across I-25. Next to the map is a calendar where the campaign manager has recorded the number of homes Tom and his volunteers have visited each day. Before July, Tom and his team made 2,940 voter “contacts.” In the weeks after, that number nearly quadrupled. Tom studies the work his team has done, runs an index finger down the calendar until he reaches July 20.“That’s my off day,” he says. “I won’t be any good then.”

He heard his son’s voice. He can’t remember the words, but when Tom awoke in his bed, he swore Alex had been there with him. He lay there in the dark, Terry at his side, thinking about his son. For a moment, he felt comforted. He lost many things the morning Alex died, and every day since he’s tried to hold onto the memories. Baseball games, the name of the girl Alex took to senior prom, that voice—low and confident and reassuring and kind, all at the same time. “Hearing it,” Tom says, “that was wonderful.”

Terry doesn’t dream. Since July 20, 2012, her mind doesn’t let itself go there. Her therapist says it could be her subconscious’ way of protecting her, a hardened cast shielding her heart. She’s resigned to restlessness at night, when she’s exhausted from the day and allows her thoughts to wander, when she thinks about her son’s last moments and how she wasn’t there.

A few months ago, Terry switched doctors. The information sheet she had to fill out had all sorts of basic questions. Her insurance, her age and height, any pre-existing conditions. She quickly moved through the paperwork, but near the bottom she stopped. How many children do you have? What are their ages?

Terry and Tom had always handled the question honestly—they have two children, only one is alive—but that only provoked questions, strangers digging into their world and going back to that day. There would be a shocked look, then tears and apologies for asking. Thoughts and prayers. But here was the question again, this time in black and white. Today, in 2018, there was only their 32-year-old daughter—one year younger than her big brother at birth but now five years older on paper. Naming only one child seemed an affront to Alex, to his memory and the legacy they had worked to build in his name. It would be as if he never existed.

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Terry wrote both children’s names on the paper. Megan got an age. Alex did not.

These days, Alex’s death is still felt in ways both big and small. Last year, Tom was in Las Vegas with one of his friends when a gunman began shooting at concertgoers from a hotel room on the Strip. The man killed 58 people and wounded more than 500 others—surpassing Aurora for the most gunshot victims in an American mass shooting. (He killed himself before law enforcement agents could apprehend him.) A few miles away, in his hotel room, Tom awoke around 3:30 that morning and saw the news alerts on his phone.

He and his friend went downstairs into the casino where cable news stations ran video of the nighttime shooting on a nonstop loop. He looked around the room, took inventory of the people. He felt the casino’s energy—folks celebrating blackjack wins, the clatter of coins pouring from slot machines. Fewer than five hours earlier, just up the street, dozens of people had been murdered. At that moment, Tom knew victims’ families were preparing to gather at homes. They would be talking about memorial services and funerals and burial plots. Children would soon be waking up to learn they no longer had a parent or an uncle or an aunt. But here, at the latest home of America’s worst mass shooting, it was as though nothing had happened.

When he thought she’d be awake, Tom called Terry. “I’m OK,” he told her. Later that day, Tom drove past the crime scene. He looked up at the Mandalay Bay hotel where the shooter’s windows were broken out. “People were taking selfies,” Tom remembers. He felt uneasy. Was this what it was like when Alex was murdered? he wondered.

Tom hugged Terry after he got home. He went to the kitchen and passed a photo of Alex that hung in the hallway. He went to the family room, where one of Alex’s pictures was displayed on a wall. When he went to his computer in Alex’s former bedroom, there was another reminder. When he stripped down before he went to bed, there was Alex, in an image on the nightstand.

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Tom at a dedication for the Aurora shooting memorial this past summer. Photograph by Dana Romanoff

He’s everywhere. The Sullivans keep Alex’s belongings in plastic tubs in the garage. There’s the 1985 baseball card set Tom purchased to commemorate Alex’s birth year. Tom kept some of his son’s clothes, including a green T-shirt, printed with “Pog Mo Thoin”—“Kiss My Ass,” in Gaelic—because it still makes him laugh. Megan has the Batman belt buckle her brother was wearing when he died.

Downstairs, the basement is a shrine to the Peter Pan moments. There are Colorado Avalanche hockey sticks from when father and son went to practices. There are photographs of stadiums and players; a few pennants are pinned to the walls.

Tom pulls back a thin curtain that reveals a small area packed with baseball cards. Atop several shelves are cards from both Tom’s and Alex’s childhoods. When Alex was younger, he and his father would fly to San Francisco together and attend a massive card convention. “Alex and I loved going through these,” Tom says, opening the first box.

He opens another, then another. He pulls out bobbleheads of baseball players and holds them like trophies. “Have you seen this one?” he says. There’s an excitement down here, a palpable brightness to Tom’s demeanor. Love. It is intense and honest and happy and horrible all at once, a father digging through the past to find his son. After a half hour, after the cards have been put away, he pulls the curtain closed.

Then there he is, in the room with the hockey sticks and photographs and pennants and memories. He takes it in, the collection he built over the years with Alex. He gives a half smile. “God,” he says, “I miss him.”

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Just after midnight, the Sullivan house is still. Terry, her brother and sister-in-law, and Tom’s mother left earlier for a candlelight memorial near the theater. Tom stayed behind, as he has most years since 2012 on July 20, to sit on the patio.

He was asleep when Alex was murdered, and because of that, he doesn’t sleep now. At 12:38 a.m. on every anniversary, Tom has vowed to be awake for his son. He grabs a cigar, pours some Jameson into a tumbler with a ball of ice, slides open the glass door to the yard, and steps into the warm night. He eases into a patio chair. There’s a cutout of a large, wooden football helmet behind him, Alex’s high school number 73 painted in white just below his last name. Tom turns on a small speaker and plays some classic rock from his phone. He lights his cigar. Gray smoke rises and twists above his balding head.

When he’d woken up that morning, on July 19, the anniversary had already been on his mind. His mother was flying in from Texas later in the day. July 20 was her birthday, just like Alex. Tom padded over to his son’s old room to check his email. A newsletter from one of the local newspapers was in his inbox. Tom clicked on it, and there he was: that photo outside the high school.

Tom studied himself. His eyes are closed, his mouth partly open in a pained moan. Terry’s face is buried into his right cheek, and Tom’s right arm is pulling her closer. Megan’s crying, and Tom’s about to wrap her in a hug with his other arm. Ever since the shooting, he has thought of himself as the strong one. He was the one who went to the first criminal hearings, not just because he needed to know what happened to his son, but because he needed to hear it first to protect his family. Now this photo was staring back at him, and he didn’t feel nearly as strong. The fear and uncertainty was as fresh and as painful as it was in that moment six years ago.

He takes a puff from his cigar. Elton John plays over the speaker. Tom checks the time on his phone. 12:35.

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It was Independence Day weekend in 1992 when the Sullivans moved into this house. Tom will never forget it. He knew this was the perfect place for his children. It was one of those suburban neighborhoods where families take walks together, where kids ride their bicycles up and down the street and bounce basketballs in driveways. He and Alex stood in the driveway that day, his six-year-old boy looking up at the new home. “I’m never moving again,” he told his son. “This will be your house to sell.”

“OK, Dad,” Alex said.

Tom rubs the tattoo with his son’s name and “7-20” printed inside his right forearm. 12:38 comes and goes.

A little after 1 a.m., Terry returns from the memorial. Tom’s mother pops her head out the door.

“Good night, love you,” she says.

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“Night, Mom.”

Terry pulls out a chair and sits across from her husband. “You would have liked it,” she says of the event. Some of Alex’s co-workers from Red Robin were there, people who were in the theater that night. Terry loves seeing them, hugging them, hearing about where their lives are taking them. She can’t believe how old they’re getting, can’t help but think what her son would look like today, what he’d be doing today.

In the shadows, Tom and Terry talk and talk. They laugh about how Alex always got pinned in high school wrestling, about the time 11-year-old Alex wrangled free tickets for himself and his mother to go to the All-Star Game at Coors Field. How Alex was a huge Wayne Gretzky fan and got his autograph once. How Gretzky found out about Alex’s murder and called Tom to say he was so very sorry about his loss. How Terry put a Sulley figurine from the movie Monsters, Inc. in the breast pocket of her son’s suit jacket before the wooden lid was closed.

Tom relights his cigar. Terry pours another Jameson for her husband.

Another hour passes, their voices becoming hoarse in the night. Tom turns down the music. Terry looks at her phone.

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“I hate to tell you, but it’s 3:30,” she says. “You stay out as long as you want, but I’m going to bed. I love you.”

“Love you, too,” Tom says.

He sits for a few minutes, looks up at the stars. The cigar’s out again, and Tom puts it in the ashtray. He turns off the music, gathers his phone and the speaker and the tumbler with the half-melted ball of ice.

He shuts the glass door behind him when he goes inside. Tom walks past Alex’s photo in the family room. He passes Alex in the hallway. He goes upstairs to bed and finally allows himself to sleep. Tonight, he hopes, he will hear his son’s voice again.

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