AURORA, Colo. — Three friends decided to go to a midnight showing of the new Batman movie.
The 12:01 show was sold out. So they went to the 12:05 screening and sat halfway up in the stadium seating.
Ten, maybe 20 minutes passed. Suddenly, something arced across the screen, from right to left. It made a hissing sound. There were several flashes. Stephen Barton and Ethan Rodriguez-Torrent, 22-year-old friends from Southbury, Conn., assumed they were fireworks.
It was gunfire.
The shooter killed 12 people and injured 58. Doctors said he must have been armed with multiple weapons — they treated people with shotgun, handgun and high-velocity rifle wounds.
“My memory is only of the muzzle, of the flash. ... I didn’t even see a figure behind the gun,” Barton said Friday from his hospital bed at the Medical Center of Aurora.
Another victim wasn’t so lucky.
Jessica Ghawi narrowly escaped a murderous rampage at a shopping center in Toronto last month, deciding to leave a food court where, moments later, a gunman killed two people and wounded six others.
The incident, and her narrow escape, deeply moved her.
“I was shown how fragile life was on Saturday,” Ghawi wrote on her blog. “I saw the terror on bystanders’ faces. I saw the victims of a senseless crime. I saw lives change. I was reminded that we don’t know when or where our time on Earth will end. When or where we will breathe our last breath.”
A year ago, she moved to Denver from San Antonio to pursue her career, her brother, Jordan, told Denver TV station KUSA.
In a wicked twist of fate, the aspiring sports journalist was killed Friday in an early morning massacre in a Colorado theater, along with at least 11 others, by a gunman wielding an assault-style rifle, a shotgun, a handgun and canisters of a noxious chemical. Police said 59 others were wounded.
Officials did not release names of the victims, but some relatives and friends stepped forward to identify a handful of victims, or used social media to convey their grief.
As some families learned the fate of loved ones, others were caught in a terrible limbo, knowing a loved one had been wounded but unable to find any information. In a midday news conference, police announced that 10 bodies remained inside the theater but did not release the names of the dead.
Greg Medek’s youngest child, 23-year-old Micayla, was shot, but her friends were told by authorities to leave her in the theater, her relatives said. “She was coughing and she fell to the ground, and that’s when the police or whoever was trying to help her ushered them out and said ‘There is nothing you can do,’ ” Zakovich said. “That makes me think she was critical and they couldn’t move her.”
Micayla did not have her ID, her aunt, Jenny Zakovich of South Milwaukee, Wis. Her fate was not immediately known.
“I just want to hear she’s not one of the ones laying in the theater,” her aunt said.
The family was notified late Friday that she was.
Barton had been struck near the left side of his neck and required more than an hour of surgery. As he spoke, his mom, Christine Barton, watched nearby, her eyes welling with tears.
He recalled being shot, ducking down behind the seats, hearing screams. At one point, when he lost feeling in his left arm, he was briefly convinced it had been blown off. He thought about 25 rounds went off — there were probably more — before the shooter paused. Was he reloading? Was he going to fire into the aisles?
Most people didn’t wait to find out. They steamed out an emergency exit in the back left corner. Barton ran after them and didn’t look back.
Rodriguez-Torrent stayed with their other friend. The movie played for a little longer, and there was gunfire on-screen. He recalled thinking: “I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die like this. I don’t want my friend to die.”
Finally, the movie stopped and the lights came on. Rodriguez-Torrent helped his friend stand up and they made their way to the lobby via the emergency exit — still not knowing whether the gunman had left.
Rodriguez-Torrent’s friend is hospitalized. “I was covered in her blood basically,” he said.
Amid the crowd, Barton and Rodriguez-Torrent briefly found each other. Then a police officer rushed Barton to the hospital. He was one of 18 victims treated at the Medical Center of Aurora.
Around 3 a.m. Friday, Rodriguez-Torrent woke up Barton’s mom with a phone call. Christine Barton and her husband caught a flight to Denver. When she finally saw her son, he was recovering from surgery.
Barton and Rodriguez-Torrent had spent more than two years planning a cross-country bike trip. They took off in June from Virginia Beach, Va., with hopes of reaching San Francisco. After 80 exhausting miles Thursday, they decided to stop for a midnight movie.
Barton said he’d like to finish their journey.
His mom repeatedly shook her head no.