Isaac Pacheco (C) is comforted after leaving a birthday card for his friend Alex Sullivan, who was killed in the Denver-area movie killings, at a memorial site for victims behind the theater where a gunman opened fire on moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado July 21, 2012. (Photo : Reuters)
They included a sandwich maker, a cryptography expert, college students and a property appraiser. Some loved wrestling, others sportscasting, or visiting the zoo.
The 12 people killed early on Friday morning in a multiplex in Aurora, Colorado, came from all walks of life. Many were avid comic book fans who had eagerly awaited the midnight premiere of 'The Dark Knight Rises.'
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The victims ranged in age from six-year-old Veronica Moser-Sullivan, who had just learned how to swim, to 51-year-old Gordon Cowden. Most were in their 20s.
Jessica Ghawi, 24, had spent the day cajoling friends to join her at the theater. She wouldn't accept excuses from those who said they'd be too tired for work after a midnight showing. "Of course we're seeing Dark Knight," she tweeted. She wouldn't take no for an answer; she was a "redheaded Texan spitfire." Sure enough, she had her way; just before midnight she was tweeting impatiently that there were still 20 minutes to wait.
Alex Sullivan couldn't wait for the movie, either. This was a big weekend for him: He'd be celebrating his first wedding anniversary on Sunday. And Friday was his 27th birthday. The Batman premiere was a present to himself.
"OMG COUNTING down till it start cant wait going to be the best birthday ever," he wrote on his Facebook page.
The Aurora multiplex was crowded for the event. Denver had been sweltering under 100-degree (high 30s Celsius) temperatures for days. The theater offered an air-conditioned respite. And the crowd was primed for fun.
Large groups of friends came in together. Some comic-book aficionados wore costumes. Others brought their kids; six-year-old Veronica was there with her mom, and she wasn't the only one allowed to stay up way past bedtime for the treat of watching Batman on the big screen. One young couple brought their infant son and their 4-year-old daughter.
Anticipation turned to anguish when the gunman burst into the darkened theater, set off two smoke bombs and let loose a barrage of bullets.
Matt McQuinn, 27, was fatally shot as he dived to cover his girlfriend, Samantha Yowler, trying to shield her from the bullets, according to Robert Scott, a lawyer representing both families. McQuinn and Yowler worked together at Target. His Facebook page had a picture of them together, a close-up with a teddy bear.
Friends of Alexander Teves, who also died in the shooting, posted memories of him online; one recalled that he loved Spiderman and did a hilarious impersonation of Gollum from the "Lord of the Rings" movies. Teves, 24, was a basketball buff. There's a video of him on YouTube participating in a fan contest during halftime of a college basketball game. Given one chance to make a three-point shot, he nailed it.
"One of the best men I ever knew," one of his friends wrote of Teves.
Similar praise poured in for Rebecca Ann Wingo, 32. Her Facebook page showcased her vibrant spirit: She liked camping, traveling, bowling and listening to local bands. She worked in a restaurant. She spoke Chinese.
The Denver Post quoted from the Facebook page of her father, Steve Hernandez: "I lost my daughter yesterday to a mad man, my grief right now is inconsolable..."
Two military men were among the dead. John Larimer, 27, was a petty officer in the Navy who specialized in cryptology. "He was an outstanding shipmate," his commanding officer, Commander Jeffrey Jakuboski, said in a statement released by the Navy. "He will be missed by all who knew him."
Air Force Staff Sergeant Jesse Childress, 29, was killed as well. A reservist, Childress had been called to active duty as a cyber systems operator, stationed at nearby Buckley Air Force Base, the military said.
Ghawi, the 24-year-old redhead, was an aspiring sportscaster who adored professional hockey. On Saturday, journalists who had worked with her shared their shock and anguish online. They also called attention to a blog she had written earlier this summer, after a "weird feeling" in her gut had prompted her to exit a food court in Toronto minutes before a gunman opened fire, killing a shopper just steps from where she had been sitting.
"God bless you, Jessica. You are a beautiful soul with an infectious smile," posted Nate Lundy, a sportscaster with a Denver radio station where Ghawi had worked as an intern. "Miss you so much."
'MISS HER FOREVER'
Other victims included Alexander Boik, 18, a talented artist planning to enter an arts college in the fall, the Denver Post reported. Jonathan Blunk, 26, who was described by NBC News as a father of two young children and a former Navy sailor, also died in the massacre.
So did Micayla Medek, 23, a community-college student and self-described "sandwich artist" at Subway.
Medek had gone to the midnight showing with several friends in her hometown of Aurora. One of those friends called her house around 1 a.m. with news her parents could barely process.
There had been guns, the friend said. A shooting. Medek had called out "I've been shot!" She had fallen to the ground. Her friends saw her fall, heard her cough, tried to help, but were hustled out of the theater by authorities, her aunt, Jenny Zakovich, recounted.
For nearly 20 hours, the family tried to find Micayla.
Her older sister, Amanda, drove from hospital to hospital with Micayla's photo, desperate to find someone who might have seen her. Her father, Greg, pleaded for information from authorities who had set up a staging area at a local high school.
"They searched and searched and searched and searched for her," Zakovich said.
It wasn't until Friday night that authorities knocked at their door with confirmation that Micayla had died in the theater.
Greg Medek, exhausted and depleted, said he took comfort in knowing that Micayla shared his strong Christian faith. She was a hard worker, he said, a good girl, a happy girl, who "had a heart for people."
"She was the best part of my life," Micayla's father said. "You couldn't have asked for a better kid. It was a privilege to have her."
His voice broke as he added: "I'm going to miss her forever."