Covering the Aurora Theater Shooting

The last time I got emotional while covering a story was back on January 4th, 2012. I had just wrapped up an interview with the mother of Cole Rhodes. Earlier in the day Cole was killed in a car accident. During an interview, his mother told me how much of a special kid Cole was. When I walked out of their home I got in to my news vehicle. I sat there for a couple of minutes and my eyes filled with tears.

I deal with death and terrible things at work on a daily basis and I usually deal with them well. Once in a blue moon the situation will get the best of me and I can’t help but react the way a normal human being would react.

On Thursday, July 19th, two of my best friends from back home arrived in Denver to spend the weekend with me. I got out of work at 10pm that night and met up with them. I live close to 9news, so the three of us arrived at my house shortly after 10. 

My friend Jacquie had pretty bad jetlag so she passed out quickly. Phil and I stayed up a bit later to talk. By one o’clock in the morning I noticed a tweet from a competitor who mentioned the possibility of a mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora. I called 9NEWS and our assignment editor said they had already been working on it.

About 45 minutes later I noticed more of my colleagues sending e-mails and tweets. I decided to e-mail one of our managers to see what our staffing was like. She responded asking me if I was able to come in. Five minutes later I was dressed and ready to go.

I arrived at the station around 2:15am. I stopped at a gas station first to grab red bull and vitamin water. I needed the energy.

When I stepped inside the newsroom, managers, producers, reporters and editors were already in full ‘breaking news’ mode. I had just received a text message from a source that told me what everyone now knows: 12 dead and more than 30 injured.

Initially I was dispatched to Denver Health to see if any victims were being transferred there. I didn’t see any activity so I returned to the station to find out what my next assignment was. My Assistant News Director Tim told me to go check out the movie theater with Photojournalist Chris Hansen. Chris had just arrived and loaded up his vehicle with camera gear and a LiveU (LiveU allows us to go live right from a backpack).

Chris and I left the station and headed south along I-25 and then jumped on to 225. On the way Chris tried calling his brother who was in town visiting him. His brother had mentioned the possibility of going to see the midnight showing of the new Batman movie, but he never confirmed anything with Chris. Chris tried calling his brother multiple times, but he never picked up. Eventually the desk attendant at the hotel Chris’s brother was staying at went to his room and knocked on his door. Chris’s brother woke up and called Chris back. Chris’s stress level immediately dropped.

About 15 minutes after that call happened Chris and I arrived at the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora. Live trucks had already staked out their positions and reporters were surveying the area looking for interviews. 

At that point 9NEWS had already been on the air for about an hour. Chris started up our LiveU pack and we joined our colleagues on the air within a few minutes. Initially, I walked over to some people who had been sitting around and I started to interview them. One lady told me she had been worried about her friend who went to see the movie. For a brief time she hadn’t heard from her. Eventually she learned her friend was okay. I asked the man sitting next to her why he was there. He told me a man and his 12-year-old son passed by them on the way to the movie and he wanted to make sure they were okay. As we continued on we noticed more police vehicles showing up. 

We brought our viewers for a walk around the taped off area outside the theater and showed them what it looked like. We also ran in to more people. While interviewing one lady, she broke down in to tears and expressed her deepest condolences for the families involved.

Perhaps the most compelling conversation I had was with another lady who was watching the movie in Theater 8, next door to Theater 9 (where the shooting took place). She said she was supposed to see the movie in Theater 9 but her credit card was declined. By the time she got money, the movie in Theater 9 was sold out – so she ended up in Theater 8.About 15 minutes in to the movie she said a police officer entered the theater and pulled out a gun and told everyone to evacuate. At first she thought it was a joke, but soon realized how serious the situation was. As she walked out of the theater she looked in to the eyes of a teenage girl who had just been shot multiple times. She said the girl stared right at her as blood came pouring from her chest. “It’s a sight I’ll never forget,” she told me.

Chris and I had just finished filming a few interviews when NBC News asked if I would do a talk back interview with Matt Lauer on the Today Show. Around 8:15am (ET) I was on the air telling Matt what I had learned from moviegoers I talked to. My mom happened to be watching at home in New York and called me right after to make sure I was okay. I told her I was, even though I was emotionally drained.

An hour after I did a live shot for the Today Show I appeared on MSNBC with new information about the FBI’s investigation in to what happened at the movie theater. After that I did a few more live shots for 9NEWS and our sister-station KPNX in Phoenix, AZ.

Sometime around 9am TaRhonda Thomas arrived at the scene to relieve me. My mini-vacation was supposed to start 10pm Thursday, but I ended up working from 2am-9am the following morning. As much as I enjoy mini-vacations, I would’ve rather been at work covering a major story like this. Good journalism is about covering your community and covering it well. I love my community. There’s no other place I would have rather been that day.

When I returned to the station to drop off my gear I stopped by the newsroom to touch base with my producers. The newsroom was hectic. Everyone was busy. Busy and stressed. You could tell how much the story was getting to everyone.

As I walked down the long hallway from the newsroom to the parking lot I started to feel a tear develop in my eye. I kept my head down and continued to walk. I got to my car, opened the door, put my backpack in and hopped in the driver’s seat. I sat there for a couple of minutes, emotionally drained. I looked back on the last couple of hours and wondered, ‘what sort of person would do something like this?” I think that’s the question many people are now wondering…