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Not again: Movie theater massacre unfolds 15 miles from Columbine

July 20, 2012|By Rene Lynch
  • A distraught woman is counseled by Pastor Quincy Shannon, left, outside Gateway High School in Aurora, Colo., where the families of the missing are gathering.
A distraught woman is counseled by Pastor Quincy Shannon, left, outside… (AFP / Getty Images )

The movie theater massacre that took place in Aurora, Colo., early Friday morning unfolded about 15 miles from the scene of the Columbine High School shootings.

Residents of Littleton, Colo., who lived through that 1999 rampage were badly shaken Friday morning by news of the latest bloodshed. The shooting at a midnight screening of the new Batman film,"The Dark Knight Rises," killed 12 people and injured at least 50. The Columbine shooting killed 12 students and 1 teacher; the two gunmen took their own lives as well.

Littleton knows all too well the shock and grief that now faces Aurora. Already, some residents had begun reaching out to help the nearby community walk the same sad path that lies ahead.

"I just don’t think they know what is ahead for them," Kelli Narde, communications director for the city of Littleton, told the Los Angeles Times on Friday. "Just the sheer magnitude of the tragedy, the community grief, the why of it all," she said. "It’s going to stick with them for awhile."

Narde said she woke up as usual Friday morning, and started to go about her day. "I got up at 6 and turned up the TV and got the newspaper like I always do," Narde said. Then she heard the chilling words coming from the TV.

"Shooting." "Aurora." Dozens of victims. Twelve dead.

"I froze. I was just frozen. My heart started racing, and it has been racing all morning," Narde said. The news was so shocking, it was almost unbelievable, said Narde, who has close ties to both communities.

How could this possibly happen here again? she asked.

"I was here for Columbine. I grew up in Aurora. I worked at that mall [where the movie theater shooting took place] when I was a teenager," she said. The shooting scenes are just about 15 to 20 miles away, she said.

"I’m kind of at a loss for words. I think we all are."

Narde was working for the city of Littleton, Colo., when the April 20, 1999, shootings took place at nearby Columbine High School. Two students -- Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold -- opened fire, killing a dozen students and a teacher and causing injury to two dozen others before taking their own lives.

Although the shooting actually took place on school grounds in unincorporated Jefferson County, Littleton forces were the first responders, and the community became the defacto "ground zero" staging grounds. "It didn't actually take place in Littleton, but the world thinks it did," she said.

Narde said that after she composed herself Friday morning, she immediately contacted Aurora city government officials to tell them that the community of Littleton stands ready to help, and is willing to offer guidance based on its own experiences.

Throughout Littleton, the shootings -- and their familiarity -- were dominating everyone's thoughts and conversations, she said.

Narde said the community of Aurora can expect to feel waves of shock, grief, anger and despair in the days, weeks and months ahead.

She encouraged the community's residents to band together as much as possible, to express their grief. While painful, such unity will ultimately start the healing process, she said.

"I think that people will feel the need to come together to share their shock, their grief, their emotions," she said. "Whatever helps people feel better -- mental health counseling, prayer services, community events to remember the victims."

She said the community can expect the waves of emotions to rush back again and again.

"Once the identities of the victims start coming out, there will be a whole new wave of shock, a whole new wave of sadness."

She said that the community can also expect to feel an unbelievable sense of helplessness.

"Many of these victims, presumably, are young people. That just makes it all the more tragic," she said.

"They’ll have a long road ahead of them."

ALSO:

Gunman kills 12 at 'Dark Knight Rising' screening

Colorado rampage suspect booby-trapped apartment

Colorado shooting spree: Chaos, then horror unfolds on social media

Join Rene Lynch on Google+ and Twitter. Email: rene.lynch@latimes.com

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