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

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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

Joel@calvaryaurora.org

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