It was a year ago today the sickening sound of gunfire rang out at a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colo.
Twelve people died, including Matt McQuinn of Springfield, 70 were injured, and more than 300 narrowly escaped as James Holmes, dressed in black, appeared before them in a cloud of smoke and opened fire.
A year later, the survivors and the relatives of victims cannot forget the terror or their losses.
Jerri Jackson tried to return to her job as a Springfield trucking company claims adjuster a few weeks after her son, McQuinn, was killed. But the pain was too much to bear. She has yet to return to work. Getting out of bed and out of the house to buy groceries is hard some days.
“I just don’t want to be around people,” Jackson said.
McQuinn, 27, was sitting with his girlfriend, Samantha Yowler, in the first row of the second level of the theater’s stadium seating when the firing began.
As Jackson tells it, McQuinn said “Ow, that hurts,” before he jumped on Yowler to shield her from gunfire.
Yowler survived. McQuinn didn’t.
Jackson remembers a conversation she had with her son, hours before the shooting. He talked about plans to move back to Ohio to work at a car parts factory near St. Paris; perhaps he would marry Yowler. He was homesick after struggling for a year to find full-time work in Colorado. Jackson offered to let him live with her to get started.
Then McQuinn said he had to go. He was going to the movies.
“I told him, ‘Be careful,’” Jackson said. “He said, ‘I know. … I’ll talk to you later, mom. I love you.’ And that was it.”
Now, she keeps close at hand the blanket in which she wrapped Matthew when he was a baby — she found it in his apartment, among his things.
McQuinn’s stepdad David Jackson said his family was invited to ceremonies today in Aurora to honor him. Instead, he said, about 20 people will have a family gathering at his Springfield home “to spend time remembering.”
Attorneys for Holmes, whose hair has lost its reddish-orange dye since his arrest, have entered pleas of not guilty by reason of insanity on his behalf.
His trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 14.
Survivors, their families, the families of victims and people protesting against gun violence participate in commemorative ceremonies on Friday.
“We didn’t feel what they were planning was all that appropriate,” Jackson said.
“That would be impersonal, and this is family.”
“It’s been a long, hard year. It’s never out of our minds,” he added. “I still sometimes don’t believe how it could happen.”
Jackson said the family continues to take comfort in the feeling that “he died a hero by saving his girlfriend’s life.
“He wasn’t somewhere where he wasn’t supposed to be and he wasn’t anyplace doing something he wasn’t supposed to be doing,” Jackson said. “The theater “just should have been a safe place and not a place to die.”
“We’ve got little things that were his” to remember McQuinn by, Jackson added.
“He and I both liked (the television series) ‘Smallville.’ We both had the complete collection of the DVDs.”
“We haven’t been to a movie since it happened,” he said. “We just can’t go to the theater. (There’s) just too much pain, and we don’t feel safe any more.”
He said his family has had periodic contact with Samantha Yowler over the year and understand she’s now attending Ohio State University.
Many who packed Springfield’s Maiden Lane Church of God for McQuinn’s funearal last July 28, will recall the memorable address by McQuinn’s uncle, Pastor Herb Shaffer.
Shaffer described the edgy looking McQuinn as a man with a golden retriever’s warmth and captured his sense of humor by recalling that McQuinn referred to his wrap-around sunglasses as his “man tiara.”
“Our lives will never be the same,” Shaffer said. But in time, he told the congregation, “it will be good again” and “the very things that cause us pain now will become bright er and stronger and better for the rest of our lives.”
McQuinn, who spent many years of his youth in Springfield, was a graduate of Vandalia Butler High School. He was buried in Lawrenceville Cemetery in the lead car of an 80-car procession that delivered him there.
Holmes has spoken just two words aloud — “yeah” and “no,” both in answer to the judge. He looked dazed at his first hearings, and later he appeared awe-struck. But now he mostly looks nonchalant, and nothing in any of his expressions indicates what’s going on inside his head.
Citing a judge’s gag order and privacy laws, those who know the most about Holmes’ life in Colorado say little. But there were hints along the way that his life had taken a sharp and dangerous turn.
None of the warnings or the bizarre reversals in Holmes’ behavior answers the critical question: Why would a seemingly harmless college student, without so much as a traffic ticket on his record, amass an outlandish arsenal, dye his hair orange and stage a wanton and theatrical attack on hundreds of innocent strangers?
Some answers may come during Holmes’ trial, scheduled to start in February.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Greater love no man has than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
— Headstone of shooting victim Matt McQuinn