AURORA, Colo. Movie-screen superheroes never die. But there were superheroes present in a darkened movie theater at Aurora Mall and some of them did die, like Matthew Robert McQuinn, who threw his body in front of his longtime girlfriend, Samantha Yowler, shielding her from the bullets that took his life.
McQuinn, 27, was one of 12 people killed when a gunman opened fire at the Aurora, Colo., theater early Friday, and, like many of the other victims, was young enough to have limitless possibilities ahead of him.
He and Yowler, who was wounded and was listed in stable condition, went to see the midnight premiere of the latest installment in the Batman series with her brother. He, too, was a superhero, leaping to protect his sister and pull her from the theater to safety.
Veronica Moser went to the movie with her mother. She was 6, too young to know much about Batman, too inexperienced to know that, in the ferocious uncertainty of life, a movie theater could become one of the most dangerous places on Earth.
Veronica died on the operating table after being wounded during the shooting, her 15-year-old cousin, Katherine Young, said Saturday.
“She was just a radiant happy, little girl,” Young said. “She was just so happy. She could brighten anyone’s day.”
Young said that Veronica, who lived in Denver, had just started swimming and had fallen in love with it.
“She was really good at it. I taught her to long-board, so she loved doing that, too,” Young said.
Veronica’s mother, Ashley Moser, also was seriously injured – shot twice in the abdomen and once in the neck – and remained in the hospital, Young said.
“They were just over for dinner on Tuesday,” she added, quietly.
Just after midnight on Friday, a gunman armed with a small arsenal of weapons opened fire in the theater, fatally wounding a dozen people and leaving 58 others injured.
By Friday night, officials had identified all 12 of the dead – the 10 who died in the initial attack and two others who died later at hospitals – and on Saturday the Aurora Police Department completed the task of notifying the families of the victims.
The Aurora Mall theater, much like movie palaces everywhere, is a deeply American place where the bonds of popcorn and a refuge from daily cares unite people from all backgrounds.
Alex Sullivan was a huge comic book fan, who was at the premiere to celebrate his 27th birthday.
“Oh man one hour till the movie and its going to be the best BIRTHDAY ever,” he said in a Tweet sent shortly before he died.
Alexander Boik, 18. known as AJ, was recalled by a friend, Jakob Bolger, as “a very heartwarming, good-minded person.”
“He’s hilarious. He loved to make people smile,” said Bolger, who added he had been friends with Boik since the two played baseball together in seventh grade.
Jessica Ghawi, 25, was a sports blogger who had moved to Denver from Texas about a year ago and had narrowly escaped a mall shooting at Eaton Centre Mall in Toronto. The experience, she had written, had convinced her that each moment was precious.
John Larimer, 27, was in the Navy, a cryptologic technician who had been stationed in Aurora since October.
Micayla Medek, 23, worked at a Subway sandwich shop, and was trying to figure out what to do with her life, her aunt, Jennifer Zakovich, said Saturday.
McQuinn’s family said in a statement: “Both the Yowler and McQuinn families thank everyone for their concerns, thoughts and prayers during this difficult time. The families ask for everyone to be patient and respect their wishes during this very difficult time.”
‘Lost but not forgotten’
Those who did not know the victims or their families mourned them as well. On Friday night, candles appeared across from the mall on Sable Boulevard, a sign reading: “7/20 – Lost But Not Forgotten.”
Many who stood around the makeshift shrine said they had come because it could have been them, or their brothers or sisters or aunts or mothers, lying bloodied on the ground. They struggled for words – “shocking,” “horrible,” “unthinkable” – that were ultimately inadequate, their voices faltering with the weight of the events of two days before.
The victims’ families, now also bonded in their loss, recalled them with a mixture of love and the numbness of disbelief.
Medek, her aunt said, “was her dad’s best friend. She and her sister were inseparable.”
Larimer’s father, Scott, said his son John grew up as one of five children in Crystal Lake, Ill.
“We’re still in shock,” the senior Larimer said Saturday. “Unfortunately in the military you expect him to be in harm’s way, but not in a theater.”