Tragedies affix themselves in our memories. When they are natural disasters, it is sometimes easier: we know that there is nothing we could have done to control the weather. The senseless loss of life is still shocking and makes us feel helpless, but it is much worse when the disaster is inflicted by man.
Anyone old enough to remember will be able to tell you exactly where they were when Pearl Harbor was bombed, or when they heard that JFK was shot. Everyone in my generation can tell minute details about things that happened to them on September 11th, 2001. And it would be surprising if they could not also recall watching news coverage of the Columbine shootings in 1999 and Virginia Tech’s massacre in 2007.
This morning at 7 AM I woke up to the sound of a text message. I wiggled around, trying not to disturb my daughter (but not succeeding), and laid hands on my phone. After reading a sweet message from my brother who was trying to make sure I’d gotten over being sick this week, I pushed the button to read the message that my mother had sent me, the one that I’d just received. It said, “Hon, can you see this mayhem in Aurora? I hope no one you knew was at the movie!”
Last night was the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises, the latest Batman movie. My friends have all been known to go to a midnight premiere or two in their time, but the only one that I knew that was definitely at a theater last night was a friend from school, who went to see it in Omaha.
I called my mother immediately; she watches the news as she gets ready in the morning, and she told me what had happened. Someone had entered a packed theater at the Century 16 at the Aurora Mall, set off a can of some kind of gas, and started shooting people indiscriminately. She told me that fifteen people were dead and at least fifty injured.
My first thought was for my husband’s best friend, my brother-in-law and his pregnant wife, and another of our good friends, who I thought could possibly have been there. I made sure my daughter would not roll off the bed and called my husband, who had left for work not five minutes before, and I hurried through the house to the computer to see what my friends were saying on facebook. My husband tried to calm me down, reminding me that the Century 16 was not the best theater in the area, and that if our friends went to any movies last night, it would have been down on Parker & Arapahoe, or possibly at Southlands, but that they weren’t known to frequent the Aurora Mall.
The internet was helpful. A friend in the area who I thought might have been present had posted a video from USA Today, expressing her hopes that none of her friends were there. I breathed a sigh of relief for her safety. As I began to watch the video, my husband called me back. His best friend was on his way to work, and had skipped the premiere because of the early hour he has to get up in order to be at work. I was even more comforted when he reported that our other friend had been at work all night and was probably still there.
I took my daughters to my mother’s house, receiving a sympathetic text message from my father while trying to call my mother-in-law on the way. Colorado is an hour earlier than Nebraska, so I figured that my call at 7:15 (and again at 9:15) was probably ignored in favor of sleep. Finally I texted my father-in-law, but a little later saw that my sister-in-law was on facebook. “She wouldn’t be liking statuses on facebook if her husband were in the hospital or dead,” I told my mother.
A little later, my husband’s best friend sent me a message saying that he had talked to my brother-in-law and that they were all fine. “Everyone I know who might have been there is accounted for,” he told me. My father-in-law gave me a call, letting me know that everyone was fine and thanking me for my concern, but reminding me that he and my mother-in-law are on a church trip in Alabama this week. “Sean was probably out in the garage working,” he said, explaining the unanswered phone.
The worst part about a tragedy is the senseless loss of life. Slightly less horrific is the suspense you feel until you know that all of your loved ones are safe. The dull ache that comes after may be equally bad, feeling for those who did have children or friends who were injured or killed, and just wondering why.
Was he just a crazy person who wanted to kill people? Did he fancy himself a Batman villain? Does he have some kind of political or religious agenda? Did he just want to be famous? I’m sure we’ll know soon, but it won’t change the fact that it happened.
I am so relieved that my friends and family are safe, and my heart goes out to those who cannot say the same.
I will always remember where I was today.