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Colorado shooting: Mother describes fleeing with her kids

July 20, 2012|By Jenny Deam
  • Yellow markers sit next to evidence, including a gas mask, as police investigate the scene outside the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, Colo.
Yellow markers sit next to evidence, including a gas mask, as police investigate… (David Zalubowski / Associated…)

AURORA, Colo. -- “Who does this? What kind of person does this?” Patricia Legarreta asked, tears streaming down her cheeks. Her 4-year-old daughter Azariah sat next to her, eyes wide, silently sucking her thumb on Friday afternoon, about 12 hours after they escaped the movie theater where a gunman opened fire during a screening of “The Dark Knight Rises.”

Legarreta, 24, dabbed at the blood that had started to ooze from a dotted line of shrapnel wounds from her ankle to her upper thigh.

“Innocent people, kids, kids, lost their lives,” she said. “My leg hurts but I feel so bad -- I hurt -- for the families who didn’t come out of the theater the way they went in.”

Legarreta has only lived in Aurora about a month, just a few miles from the Century Aurora 16 theaters. Her boyfriend, Jamie Rohrs, a Batman fan, called while she was out shopping around 6:30 p.m. Thursday. “Want to go to the movies?” he asked.

She bought tickets to the 12:05 a.m. premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Theater 9 and decided to bring Azariah and the couple’s 4-month-old son, Ethan Rohrs, along, figuring the kids could sleep during the movie.

The family arrived around 11:10 p.m., all four wearing Batman T-shirts, even the baby. At first they felt awkward having such small children in tow, but then Legarreta saw another person with an infant carrier.

They first chose seats near the emergency exit -- where the gunman would soon burst through the door. But at the last minute they found better seats nearer the top, something Legarreta now thinks may have saved their lives.

When the theater lights dimmed, she said, “there was such an electric excitement, everyone was clapping and cheering, even for the previews.”

But then about 20 minutes into the movie, Legarreta saw someone open the emergency exit door and walk inside. “I saw him pull something out and throw it into the crowd.” The lobbed canister flew over people’s heads and nearly hit a girl, who screamed. “I thought, is this a prank?” Legarreta said. Then she saw flashes in the dark as the gunman opened fire.

“Get down!” yelled Rohrs, who was holding the baby.

Legarreta pulled her sleeping daughter off the seat next to her and onto the floor. “Is this how I am going to die?” she thought. She couldn’t see her boyfriend in the smoke and worried her daughter was not protected enough, so she rose up to adjust their positions. That’s when she was hit.

“I felt this tingling feeling,” and she screamed:  “I think I got shot!”

A man in the row behind her yelled, “So did I!”

She could just make out Rohrs trying to get up the stairs carrying Ethan, and then she saw him trip. Her infant son was lying on the stairs crying. In a second, she reached out and pulled him to her. Lying on the ground with her two children cradled to her chest, she did not know what to do.

“If I stand up -- if I move -- I will get shot again,” she thought. But a stronger instinct took over: “I need to get out. My kids are not going to die in here.”

With one child on each hip and a badly wounded leg, she ran for the exit.

When she got outside, she couldn’t find her boyfriend, and feared the worst. “Help me!” she called out. A girl gave her a cellphone and she called Rohrs, who found her in the parking lot. He helped Legarreta into his truck and drove her to the hospital. She was treated and released around 6 a.m.

On Friday afternoon Legarreta said she worried most for the memories that may haunt her daughter.  “She’s only 4. They say kids don’t remember, but I’m afraid she will,”  she said. And then she began to cry.

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