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Colorado shooting victims' families tell their stories

Some died while pushing others to safety. One was a young mother who leaves two daughters behind. Another was a child herself – a girl of 6.

July 22, 2012|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Alexandra Zavis and Louis Sahagun, Los Angeles Times
  • A makeshift memorial arises across the street from the Aurora, Colo., movie theater where 12 were killed by a gunman. Information about the victims began to emerge Saturday as families spoke to the media.
A makeshift memorial arises across the street from the Aurora, Colo., movie… (Chip Somodevilla, Getty…)

AURORA, Colo. — Bad guys have a way of bringing out the best in people, whether on-screen or in real life. As a gunman unleashed his weapons on a full theater, the first instinct of many of his intended targets was to protect others.

Some paid with their lives.

They included Jonathan Blunk, a 26-year-old Navy veteran who pushed his girlfriend, Jansen Young, to the floor.

"I think Jon just took a bullet for me, and I was thinking what a great hero he is," Young told the "Today" show Saturday. "He saved me, and he gave me the opportunity to live. He would have done it for anybody that day."

PHOTOS: 'Dark Knight Rises' shooting

Matthew McQuinn, 27, threw himself in front of his longtime girlfriend, Samantha Yowler, saving her but not himself. Yowler was listed in stable condition Saturday after surgery. The pair had met at a Target store where they worked in Springfield, Ohio, and had applied for transfers to a store in Aurora, according to the Dayton Daily News.

Friends believe that Alex Sullivan, a burly newlywed and movie enthusiast celebrating his 27th birthday, positioned himself to save companions. His family said Sullivan, who worked at a Red Robin restaurant, was a "gentle giant" and "avid comic book geek."

"His heart was ready to be that real life superhero," said Shelly Fradkin, the mother of Sullivan's best friend.

WHO THEY WERE: Aurora movie theater victims

There will probably never be a full accounting of the heroic acts performed amid the explosions and bullets that left 12 dead and 58 wounded. The dead ranged in age from 6 to 51. Some victims' families chose to grieve in seclusion while others went public, speaking about loved ones to shed light on a dark moment, to recapture the spotlight from a killer.

"I want the victims to be remembered, not this coward," Jordan Ghawi told CNN on Friday. His sister Jessica Ghawi, 24, an aspiring sports journalist, was the first homicide victim to be identified in the aftermath of the massacre. She had narrowly missed a similar attack by a gunman last month in a Toronto mall.

Jordan Ghawi's theme of defiance was repeated by other grieving families.

TIMELINE: Mass shootings in the U.S.

"I want her portrayed in her true light," said Amanda Medek, whose younger sister, Micayla, was among the 10 victims whose bodies were left inside the theater for many hours as investigators struggled to make positive identifications. "She was so easygoing. She never asked anybody for anything. She wouldn't hurt a fly," Medek said. "She was the most loving person."

Medek, speaking by phone from her home in Aurora, broke down. "My baby sister, my baby sister, my baby sister," she sobbed. "You couldn't hate this girl. She was amazing in every way."

In their living room Saturday, surrounded by flowers and pictures of Micayla, her parents, Greg and Rena, recalled her as a responsible, caring girl.

A brown-eyed brunet who loved Hello Kitty, hot pink, fairies, boas and Beanie Babies, Medek, 23, was saving money to travel to India, the homeland of some of her co-workers at Subway.

After she moved into her own apartment in Westminster, 17 miles from Aurora, her dad thought Micayla was too far away and pestered her until she moved back home.

The Medeks waited for news all day Friday, torture for Greg Medek, 49, who paced the house worrying about his "sweetheart angel girl."

Soon after two police officers arrived with the news, the medical examiner's office contacted the family about an autopsy. Greg Medek said he agreed after the medical examiner promised she would fulfill one request: "Will you go down there and squeeze my Cayla's hand and tell her Mom and Dad love her and it's not going to hurt?'"

Several victims had military ties.

Jesse Childress, 29, was an Air Force reserve staff sergeant who worked as a cyber systems operator with 310 Force Support Squadron at nearby Buckley Air Force Base, said an Air Force spokesman.

At a makeshift memorial outside the theater on Saturday, his friend and fellow reservist Ashley Wasinger sobbed as she recalled their last conversation.

"He talked about the movie," she said. "He tried to talk me into going."

Childress, who was single, had a dog and was a loyal friend, Wasinger said. "He was athletic, fun to be with — he really just wanted to serve," she said.

John Larimer, 27, a petty officer third class from Crystal Lake, Ill., had been in the Navy about a year. He had gone to see the "The Dark Knight Rises" with three other sailors, one of whom suffered minor injuries.

"He was an outstanding shipmate, a valued member of our Navy team," said his commanding officer, Cmdr. Jeffrey Jakuboski. "Sailors were really drawn to his calming demeanor and exceptional work ethic. Our sailors are grieving. They lost a shipmate; they lost a friend."

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