My Brother Joel’s First-Hand Account of the Century 16 Shooting




The following is my brothers Account of what happened…

My brother is in town until Tuesday the 24th. I wanted to spend Thursday night with him and his wife; because there are a lot of ministry responsibilities I have Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. A movie would give us time to chill together, and meet up with friends he hadn’t seen for awhile. At about 10:30 I tried to order my ticket online to the midnight (12:01) showing of Dark Knight Rising. Something kept going wrong with my phone-I kept getting an error notice, so I hoped tickets would still be available at the counter.  When we arrived I asked the guy at the counter if I could still get a ticket for the 12:01 showing. “It’s sold out,” he told me. “Aww man” I sighed. “Do you have a group waiting for you?” he asked, “yes” “you know what, I can sell you a ticket” he told me. “Sweet!” so we made our way to theater 8 and found our group middle center. We were early, and the previews hadn’t even started and so we talked and laughed and joked. My brother caught up with friends and chatted with Pastor Daryl Wilmoth who recently planted Front Range Calvary. When the movie started we could not have known what to expect-the villain was being introduced. Then Bruce Wayne. Then, I don’t even remember how, a gun scene broke out on the screen. Guns were firing, and then I heard loud pops and gun sounds in my right ear. I thought maybe they had surround sound effects. That’s when we noticed down to our right that someone was holding their face and people were looking down and starting to stand. People began running and checking exit’s and then running back in and shouting to not exit that way, “there is a guy with a gun.” we didn’t know what to do, or where to go. Do we leave? Are we better off staying here? Is this for real?! My brother’s wife Lindsay began to panic as we tried to process what was happening and what we were going to do. People began filtering out the upper exit of the theater. We decided to make our way up as well. When we exited people were still wondering what was going on. We looked over the edge of the “bridge” and saw everyone running and screaming, police running and calling commands with their large guns in hand. We knew we needed to get out. We had no idea where the gunman was or how many there were. Was this gang related? Who was he? Where was he? Was he in the lobby? We needed to run through the lobby to get out. We needed to move now. That was probably one of the scariest points, running through the lobby not knowing if a gunman was causing all this chaos in that area. Are bullets going to fly by? Am I going to get hit? Has anyone been hit?! That question was answered when we exited the building and saw the police cars and rescue vehicles and heard the officer shouting “we need every available ambulance here on scene NOW!” my thought was “is it really that serious?” but looking around I could begin to see that yes it was. People were being carried from the theater bloodied and in shock. People were carrying their injured friends to safety. People, who moments ago had been strangers, had now in an instant become family. They were crying and helping one another look for missing loved ones. We made our way to the sidewalk at the end of the lot. We took a role call of who was with our group of friends. Everyone was there. We knew people in theater 9 and so we began making calls and checking if they had made it out ok. Around us lights were flashing. I’d never seen so many police or paramedics. What could we do? How could we help? Some of our friends were carrying people to ambulances other were standing in shock. We called a prayer meeting. “Let’s pray” we wrapped our arms around each other and began praying for wisdom and direction from the Lord to these men and woman serving the people. As we prayed two young ladies ran to our group crying, “our dad is not responding, our dad isn’t responding!” we hugged them and prayed for them right away. We prayed with others and followed the direction of the police as they tried to put the pieces together and process what was going on. We were all questioned and asked to share about what we had seen and heard and then at 3:00 we were allowed to leave. My wife knew nothing of what had happened up until this point. I didn’t feel it was necessary to put her into a panic. She text me while we were driving out and asked how the movie was. I replied to her text, “it was action packed, I’ll tell you about it when we get home.” When we got home we shared with her what had happened and tried to rest a bit. I had text my pastor what had happened and around 4:00am he called and asked me what had happened. While telling him, I began processing the morning in a different way. It had been easy to tell my wife what had happened, but this time I couldn’t do it without tears. Pastor Ed said, ” I’m going to go down there and see how we can serve. You don’t have to come, unless you want to.” I said,  “I’ll come.” he picked me up and I tried to share some more. Again, the tears flowed. The families had lost loved ones. People were still uncertain of the condition of their friends. I needed time to process. We went through the Starbucks drive through and sat in the parking lot for a bit. “Joel, you need to let it out. You’re still running on adrenaline.” he was right. I talked through it some more and then we made our way to the Aurora Medical Center. Teams from the pastoral and leadership team were already showing up at each of the local hospitals. There were so many families to pray for and minister to. We comforted friends who had loved ones in surgery and recovering from gun shot wounds to the head and chest. After we left we made our way to Gateway High School. There I was reunited with the two young girls who had been separated from their father. They had just received confirmation that their father had passed away. I sat with them for a long time. What could I say? I asked questions, both to them and to the counselors. Before I left, they let me pray for them and I gave them my number in case they needed anything. Pastor Ed, my brother Jeremiah and I decide to broadcast live on 89.7 Grace FM (Our church’s Denver based Christian radio station) to see if the Lord might use the airwaves to provide some sort of comfort and encouragement to our city. Little by little the Lord used it. People called in and shared what they were going through.  We prayed that the Lord would cause us to remain sensitive to His voice and direction. At 4 pm we went live again- talking through our experience and comforting others that shared theirs. At 6pm the community gathered at Calvary Aurora and healing (though only the beginning) was taking place through prayer, tears and hugs. It’s a long road we’ll be walking down, but we won’t be alone-Jesus is with us.  He will be with us, and as a people and Church, we are committed to serving and loving this city for the long haul.

Joel Wheelersburg

17 thoughts on “My Brother Joel’s First-Hand Account of the Century 16 Shooting

  1. Thank the Lord that he was watching over you. I have been thinking of you and Calvary all week as we are trying to plan a long weekend trip out there next Saturday, I told Pablo and the girls I definitely wanted to attend church on Sunday. I have prayed fo the families also. I will lift you up in my prayers and thank God that you were not harmed. Hoping to see you next week, a sister in Christ.

  2. Thank you for sharing your story, it is nice to see this story from someone’s perspective as opposed to hearing it through stems and news casts. Be blessed!

  3. Just so you know many all over this country are praying for you and the others involved in this horrific experience. Our thoughts and prayers are with the injured, relatives/friends of the deceased and with all who were in the theater Friday night, as well as with the citizens of Aurora.

  4. Joel, Danny and I are so glad you are ok..and….So sorry you had to go through this!!! Our hearts ache as we hear more about each precious person that lost their life…..You were so right that you are not alone, HE IS WITH YOU! Please know your family in Hawaii is praying for you and for your wonderful city………we love you all! Linda Lehmann

  5. Thanks for sharing this! Blessings to you and all of your friends and church family as you allow God to bring His healing love through you. Continuing in prayer for all of you and the city of Aurora!

  6. I am so sorry u had to go thru such horrific shooting..I am grateful you are alive and able to minister to so many people the love and grace of our King Jesus…

  7. I used to live off of Chambers and Mexico many years ago so I am very familiar with where the theater is at. Very close friends still live in that neighborhood and I was so worried about them but thankfully they were not there. Nor any friends of theirs. But they did have a music student (16 years old) they taught who seemed so nonchalant about the incident as she was in theater 8 and just very matter of factly told them them she was there and didn’t seem disturbed by it at all. Either it hasn’t hit her yet the extent of the tragedy or part of our society’s problem is our young have become so desensitized given all the violence on TV, movies, videos, music, video games….what can we expect. they all think they’re gonna get up and walk away from the violence. therein, I believe, lies a great big part of the problem. We, as parents, must be more vigilant and as the church support the parents and bring discipline back into our society. this has touched me greatly as Colorado is my “second” home that I love and where my heart is so I pray with you, cry with you and pray for that revival that will bring back joy to our spirits. May God bless you abundantly and give you the strength and courage you will need in the coming weeks to minister to your flock that is hurting, scared and confused.

  8. I’m encouraged that you and other Christians went straight to prayer! Let’s always pray for one another and look for the gracious work of the Lord. Rest in His love! Rose in California

  9. I heard on TV today that the crosses that have been erected in memory of those who lost their lives were made and delivered by the same man who built the ones for Columbine. My husband and I were in Colorado on vacation when that happened. This man brought the crosses to our church in Springdale, Arkansas. Our church had a special tribute to the tragedy and one of the fathers and his son spoke. They lost Rachel. I pray that God will awaken many who are lost to see the value of a Savior at such a time as this. Be blessed as you minister to so many who are hurting. We are praying.l

  10. its uncanny the way the enemy of the church is recruiting agents to unleash terror all over the world. This incidence further goes on to prove that the unslaught from the devil is global and not restricted to any locale. My heart and prayers go out to all who lost loved ones. Here in Jos Nigeria we are constantly under the threat of an agent of the devil driving a car loaded with explosives into a church or opening fire on a congregation at worship as has happened on numerous occasions. Thank God for your initial reaction to pray cos therein lies our salvation. Be encouraged by the fact that our God is still on the throne and the gates of hell shall never prevail against the church. Lets keep praying for one another. God bless

  11. Pingback: South Tahoe couple survives Colo. movie theater shooting | Lake Tahoe News

  12. Thank you so much for sharing your story and for trying to share the hope we have in Christ to those who need it so much. God bless you and may you heal through the love of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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