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Injured survivors recount hellish chaos in theater

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POSTED July 22, 2012 10:46 p.m.

AURORA, Colo. (AP) — One man remembers the moment he knew his friend’s life was ebbing away as she lay bleeding on the floor beside him. Another remembers the shock reflected on people’s faces as they watched him stagger past, trying to stanch a bullet wound in his neck.

Some of the 58 injured survivors of a massacre inside a suburban Denver movie theater are recounting the hellish chaos that erupted as a black-clad shooter unleashed two canisters of gas and opened fire during the Friday midnight premiere of “Dark Knight Rises.” Twelve people died.

Brent Lowak of Bulverde, Texas, went to the movie with his friend Jessica Ghawi, an aspiring sports journalist who recently moved from Texas to Colorado. Lowak, 27, and Ghawi, 24, were sitting in the sixth or seventh row when Lowak heard the hiss of gas from the canisters, his mother, Sue Greene, said Sunday.

Lowak and Ghawi ducked when they heard the sound, and Ghawi screamed as a bullet pierced her leg, Greene said.

Lowak — who has been studying to become an EMT — applied pressure to her wound as she screamed. Then she stopped and Lowak realized she had been shot again, and she was soon dead.

“Only then did he leave her,” Greene said in an interview at Children’s Hospital Colorado, where her son is listed in serious condition. “They were best friends,” she said.

Lowak realized he too had been shot and couldn’t walk. He crawled away and managed to find his way to a van taking victims to the hospital.

He took a few steps on Sunday, his first since the shooting, but Greene said she doesn’t think he will be well enough to attend a memorial for Ghawi.

“He wants so badly to be well enough to be at her memorial service,” Greene said.

Stephen Barton said he didn’t realize how badly he was hurt by the gunfire until he saw the look on others’ faces.

“I remember people looking at me and their eyes just widening because I was covered in blood,” said Barton, 22, who is in serious condition at the Medical Center of Aurora. “Then I realized how bad I must have looked and how serious it was.”

Barton and a friend, Ethan Rodriguez-Torrent, both from Southbury, Conn., were six weeks into a cross-country bicycling trip when they pulled into Aurora on Thursday afternoon. They arranged to spend the night at the home of another of Rodriguez-Torrent’s friends, and they all went to the movie.

“I never even saw the shooter. He was in black, his gun flashing in front of him,” Barton said. “To me, he was and is an inhuman object that I don’t associate with as a human being.”

Barton tumbled to the floor, hit in the neck and left forearm. He later learned he had other wounds in his arms, face and chest.

Eventually the methodical gunfire stopped and the victims’ screams filled the air. “I just thought this was the end for me, this will be the end of my life,” Barton said.

He saw people bolting for a door, and he ran with them, out of the theater, through the lobby and into the parking lot, where he was rushed to the hospital.

Rodriguez-Torrent escaped unhurt. Their friend has a brain injury from a gunshot in her face, but doctors are optimistic about her recovery, Barton said. They declined to identify her by name.

Barton and Rodriguez-Torrent might finish their ride to San Francisco next year, leaving from the Aurora movie theater and using the ride to raise money for other victims and their families.

Barton said he will gladly carry the scars from his wounds as a reminder of how precious life is.

“You always think that these tragedies can’t happen to you, until you find yourself laying on a movie theater floor covered in blood,” he said.

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