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Aurora pastor to 33 members: 'Very, very happy God spared you'

July 22, 2012|By Ashley Powers
  • Crosses memorialize shooting victims across the street from the theater in Aurora, Colo.
Crosses memorialize shooting victims across the street from the theater… (Alex Brandon / Associated…)

AURORA, Colo. -- Michelle Chandler went to church Sunday still grief-stricken from the movie theater shooting rampage that's torn this city asunder. Her 18-year-old daughter, Tannah Rich, had been in the theater where a gunman opened fire Friday, killing 12 people and wounding dozens more.

Rich had gone to the new Batman movie with three friends. None of them was wounded, but Rich called her mother from the parking lot, terrified.

"She said, 'Mommy, Mommy' -- she never calls me that anymore," Chandler, 41, recalled outside Calvary Chapel Aurora. " 'Mommy, there's a man with a gun and he's shooting.' "

Chandler found Rich and her friends frozen near a fire truck outside the theater. Rich briefly recapped the massacre: the gas canister that arced across the screen, the stream of bullets, the blood and screams. When the shooter paused, she and her friends joined the crush of people racing out of Theater 9. Only later did Rich realize that she'd grabbed her purse upside down and dumped out its contents.

The exhausted teenager didn't change out of her clothes until the next morning. On the back of her shirt was a bloody hand-print.

Chandler, Rich and the rest of their family sought solace at Calvary on Friday and again at Sunday's 8:45 a.m. service, where Pastor Ed Taylor devoted his remarks to the shooting.

The pastor said 33 church members had been in Theater 9 and nearby Theater 8 when the shooter unloaded dozens of rounds.

"I'm very, very happy God spared you," he said.

He also prayed for the families of the 12 people killed, the police and firefighters who raced to the scene and even the deputies at the jail where the suspected gunman, James E. Holmes, is being held. Taylor said one deputy who attends Calvary told him it was a struggle to even look at the suspect.

Taylor urged parishioners not to focus on the "senseless act of a sinful man," but rather how they could help their community heal.

"The atrocity of the innocent losing their lives is the story of Jesus," he said.

The service stirred something in Rich. Since the shooting, she'd bottled her sorrow, at least in front of her mother. When everyone started singing a song that promised "greater things yet to come," Chandler glanced over at her daughter.

Rich had burst into tears.

ALSO:

Who they were: Aurora movie theater victims

Guns, ammo in Colorado theater shooting were legal

Facing horror, Aurora's emergency responders kept their cool

ashley.powers@latimes.com

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