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Theater shooting: 12 crosses mark a makeshift memorial in Aurora

July 22, 2012|By Ashley Powers
  • Cheryl Almendarez, right, grieves with Dallas Burke, 6, both from Aurora, Colo,. next to crosses set up by Greg Zanis for the 12 shooting victims across the street from the theater where the shooting rampage took place. Zanis erected a similar memorial near Columbine High School in 1999.
Cheryl Almendarez, right, grieves with Dallas Burke, 6, both from Aurora,… (Alex Brandon / Associated…)

AURORA, Colo. -- A weedy dirt lot with 12 white crosses is where this city has come to mourn.

The crosses, at the intersection of Sable Boulevard and Centreport Drive, are across from a movie theater where 12 people were killed and 58 wounded in an early Friday shooting rampage.

Erected by Greg Zanis of Illinois, each cross has a black ribbon tied around it and a victim's full name printed in black capital letters. At each base are long-stemmed roses wilting in the punishing afternoon heat.

People have scribbled messages on each cross. Some of the most poignant are on Veronica Moser Sullivan's, which is near the center of the arrow-straight row.

 "You are in a better place -- you will be missed."

 "Rest in Peace Baby Girl."

Veronica was 6.

Jessica Stensrud saw her right after she was mortally wounded.

Stensrud, 21, is a manager at the theaters where the shooting took place. She was closing the concession stand when she heard a series of "pows" -- the gunfire.

She herded about half a dozen employees into a walk-in refrigerator, where they waited for the blasts to subside. When she opened the fridge, the first person she saw was Veronica.

A police officer was carrying the little girl, who wore a white flowery dress. "She was already dead," Stensrud said. The child's great-aunt has said Veronica died on the operating table.

Stensrud has a 4-year-old daughter, Alyssia Chavez. They've been watching the news together. When Stensrud saw Veronica's picture on TV, she started crying.

 "Is the little girl dead?" Alyssia asked.

 "She's in heaven," her mother replied.

On Sunday, they visited Veronica's cross.

"Is this it? Is it?" Alyssia asked as they waded through a crowd of mourners and TV camera crews. Stensrud nodded. Alyssia placed a stuffed orangish-colored cat at the base.

 Stensrud picked her up, balancing the girl on her hip. Alyssia closed her eyes and sucked her thumb.

 ashley.powers@latimes.com 

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