Colorado minister recounts emotional day offering prayer, support to theater shooting victims’ loved ones
After a busy day ministering to victims’ friends and relatives, Wishard, who preaches for the Southeast Church of Christ in Aurora, shared this detailed account of his experience with The Christian Chronicle:
July 20, 2012
Details of this long day in Aurora, Colo.:
Probably many of us get up in the morning to work out on exercise bikes and watch the news — usually nothing much on a normal day. I watch business news. Big news, market up. Big news, market down. Not really anything big, just a distraction from my workout. Today at 4 a.m., it was different.
“Aurora theater shooting.” A dozen dead and many more wounded. I’m ashamed to admit what I thought. “I hope it’s not my town, hopefully Aurora, Ill.?” No. It’s my town.
After e-mailing my friends and prayer partners, I got dressed and went to Aurora Medical Center.
Prayer at times like these seems more listening than speaking to God. ”Larry, don’t worry. Just go and be available.”
To the people at the ER desk, I said, “I am with the KCRT, Key Community Response Team. I’m a minister.”
I was ushered to the victims’ friends and family makeshift waiting room. Probably 20 people in the room.
Stephanie was comforting people and providing water, coffee, snack bars and such.
“Do you have someone in surgery?”
“No. I am with the Aurora, KCRT, Key Community Response Team. I’m a minister. I’m here to comfort these people and anyone in need.”
“Great. We need this very kind of support right now.”
“I will sit here and be available.”
There was a shattered group of four older lady and three teens. The lady indicated she didn’t want my help right then.
I received a text from Joe Marcoux about Debra’s niece, Kirstin, and her boyfriend. He was shot — in the hospital recovering.
I tried to reply but could hardly get it done. Too many things going on.
My friend from San Antonio, Clara Nell, called. Chatted briefly and thanked her for praying.
In the back of a room stood a female police officer. She was there to watch out for the people and to interview people who were in the theater. She looked so strong (almost stoic), but I thought, “She will break down and cry when she gets home, like all of us.”
Then I saw a young man in a blue paper hospital gown. His head was bandaged. He came in the room, and his family surrounded him. He was shaking. They continued to hug him.
Later, a tall, stout young man with a New York Jets jersey broke down with heaving sighs and cries. He was surrounded by a friend and an older lady, perhaps his mom. A tall teenager with a full head of hair came over and hugged him, although it appeared he didn’t know him personally.
We heard that 15 people had been admitted to Aurora Medical Center
I met R.B., an Aurora detective, and he asked my name and role. “I am with the KCRT, Key Community Response Team. I’m a minister. Here to help any way I can.”
“I am so glad you can be here to help these folks.”
We moved to a smaller room. The teens were disappointed that the television wouldn’t work. I walked in, and one of them said, “I hope you are Larry the cable guy.”
“No, I’m Larry the ministry guy. I’m here to pray for you and support you.” (“And,” I thought, “help connect you in a different way.”)
“Good, that’s better for us anyway,” he replied.
The hospital chaplain, Dave Reeves, and another hospital information officer came in to offer their help and supply information.
There were 10 students who were not at the theater but friends of “Ryan,” who was in the emergency room. They scattered out on the chairs, and some slept on the floor.
Ed Taylor, a preacher friend from Calvary Chapel Aurora, came in and walked straight to me and hugged me. We said in unison, “Glad you’re here.” He had several teens from his church in this group. The youth worker prayed with a small group of the teens.
Then a woman and her three teen friends came in. She said that one of these three had a friend who had died and another in surgery.
“Do you mind if we pray?”
We had a quick, stand-up prayer and asked for God’s comfort.
Another couple came in who had just left the emergency room. Minor injuries. They needed to talk, so they shared with the whole group.
“My wife and I just returned from our honeymoon yesterday. We decided to go to the movie opening with our friend, Josh. A man came in from the right front. He threw tear gas cans like pop cans from front right to back left. Then he started running up the stairs shooting. We fell to the floor, my wife and I. A bullet hit a seat, and metal shrapnel was driven into her backside. We laid on top of our friend, Josh. Josh has no family here.”
At this time a man in the group stood up, “I’m Josh’s brother.”
The couple went over to his brother.
“We are so sorry.”
Then they told Josh’s brother details to comfort him. (I understood that Josh and the man were military or former military.)
“He had a big chunk of his arm blown off, but we think he will be OK.”
The woman, Denise, said, “I took off my shirt and wrapped it around his arm. We hoped it stopped the bleeding. We lay on top of each other. We stayed down a long time. The shooting stopped, and many got up to run for the exit. They crowded near one back exit door, and he shot into the people clustered together. There was a guy lying in the aisle who was not breathing and apparently dead. We had to step over him to run out.”
After they had debriefed Josh’s brother, I went over and introduced myself and offered to help.
Stephanie, the hospital rep, came into the room and said to the 10 teens and two adults with Ryan.
“Ryan has been dismissed. He has been released to go home. I would ask you to wait a few hours and then visit him at his home.”
In the last few hours I had seen my town blown apart by this murderer. I had seen a diverse group of people come together to help each other. Which church one attends didn’t matter. One’s skin color didn’t matter. One’s socioeconomic group didn’t matter. What mattered was helping everyone get through.
I drove home thanking God for his comfort. First responders from police to EMTs had worked to reduce the loss. Surgeons, doctors, nurses and hospital staff had fought to bring something good out of this terrible evil.
During our many years of living in the Denver area, we have suffered several tragedies. My town had come through again to help reduce the damage. Aurora is a great town but has experienced a great evil today. People helped each other. Aurora is very good about stepping up and reducing the damage.
I wonder if that is what might have moved Jesus when he came into places where people reacted to killing with more killing. He said, “You have heard it said ‘an eye for an eye,’ but I say to you…” He had other answers for responding to hate — justice, mercy and faithfulness. Jesus taught prayer as a response to hate. Hopefully, we can allow these times to trigger a deeper level of love. We can help turn people to the source of love — Jesus. To move to that perfect love that casts out fear.
Thanks to all of you for your prayers and support today.