I had the privilege of seeing family recently. It was a mini reunion of sorts, an unexpected and lovely surprise on a windy, sunny Sunday afternoon. A relative of my late husband was celebrating a milestone birthday, and we all got to gather for a time to celebrate her. I was and am honored to be included still in this family, even though my husband is no longer here. He remains my connection to these good people, and I am grateful.
Among the welcoming faces I saw was that of a young man, the son of my late husband’s cousin. He is on the local police force, as was his father before him. His girlfriend was there, a lovely and engaging young woman. She is also on the police force in our city.
So it was probably inevitable that talk would turn to the Aurora Theater shooting, now nearly ten months ago. He knew my girls had been there, and was eager to see how they are doing in the aftermath of the trauma that was that night.
(Photo Source: Google Images)
I have written before about my daughters’ time in Theater 8, about how they tried to leave but were stopped in the interest of their own safety. I shared how they left the theater parking lot just before it was locked down and how we struggled to make sense of what had happened as the night hours wore on.
I also told of a story I’d read about a man who got up to lead two girls out of the theater, one of whom had been shot in the jaw as bullets came through the wall from the beginnings of the rampage in Theater 9 next door. As he started to lead them out to the lobby, he saw what he thought might be a gunman, so he retreated back into Theater 8, closed the door, and instructed someone to pull the emergency alarm.
This was the story I shared on that Sunday as this young relative, a member of the S.W.A.T. team, asked why my girls didn’t leave the theater right away. “They tried to go out the emergency exit, but someone thought they’d seen a gunman out there. And someone had already said they thought there was a gunman in the lobby. So they were hiding on the floor between rows of seats, not sure what was true or what was safe for them to do.”
“That was us,” he said. “That wasn’t the gunman that guy saw in the lobby. It was us. We got there three to four minutes after the call came in. When we arrived the gunman was still in Theater 9. We know that because people were coming out of there, and they’d been shot on the way out. It wasn’t the gunman he saw; it was us.” He went on to explain that they were armed and wearing gas masks.
“Well I think I would have shut the door on you, too!” I told him. I’ve never seen a S.W.A.T. team in action (and hope I never have cause to) except on TV or in the movies, but if I’d seen them approaching me, armed and in gas masks as I was trying to help someone who’d been mysteriously shot, I could very easily mistake them for gunmen on the loose, I’ve no doubt.
(Photo Source: Google Images)
His girlfriend went on to explain that she had not been on duty that night, but she did what she could, calling the families of the officers she knew were on scene. She worked to assure them that their loved ones, the first responders we so often count on, were safe. They were doing their best to contain a nearly uncontainable situation, and had no time to contact their relatives who undoubtedly heard the story unfolding, feeling as confused and frightened as the rest of us.
We don’t often think of them, I imagine, of the families of the people we trust to step in, to run towards the danger every day. I have family members in more than one city and state who are on the force, so I have somewhat of a feel for how it is. But I don’t live it daily, knowing that just going to work could mean that someone I love is putting their life on the line.
I suppose we also don’t think much about what those first responders see, how it affects their lives, their jobs, and the people they love. I wonder if we often take the time to think of them as real people, with real lives, families, children, struggles, and emotions. Statistics do not bode well in regards to many things when it comes to these fine folks and their families. They live in a dichotomy that few of us could understand, much less be bothered to consider very often.
(Photo Source: Google Images)
It’s a humbling thought. Yes, I know they choose to do that. Yes, I know it’s their job and they’re paid for it. I know that some people will choose to focus on the relatively few public servants who lack integrity and character. And I also know those who opt to be first responders are the minority, that most of us don’t make that choice, don’t decide on such a career.
I still say it’s humbling, and I’m thankful they were there to offer order on a night of terror, as they are so many other times that don’t happen to make the national, or even nightly, news.
“We probably passed each other as they left the theater,” said my girls’ step-cousin. “But they couldn’t have known it was me all suited up and wearing a gas mask.” I’m pretty sure he’s right on both counts. He didn’t elaborate much, but alluded to the terrible sights he and his team had seen in the theater in those early morning hours.
I was moved as these two officers told me that they haven’t been to a theater since the shooting. They don’t know when they will; they just know that they have no desire to for the time being.
“How are they now?” he asked me, wanting to know of any lingering effects of the night my girls might be having all these months later.
I told him that my older daughter loves to go to the movies. One day as we drove by the newly re-opened Aurora Theater, I asked her if she’d ever consider going back to see a movie there. “Sure,” she said. “I’d go.”
My younger daughter, I shared, has only been to one movie, and it was not at a traditional theater, but instead at one that serves dinner with the show. And that was enough. Other than that outing over four months ago, she has no desire to or plans to go to any theater.
“You just tell her,” he reassured, “not to worry about that. Tell her that those big, bad S.W.A.T. guys don’t want to go to the movies anytime soon either.”
© Monica Simpson and Help To Hope, 2013