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The Aurora Tragedy: When Life & Art Intersect

I’ll do my best to keep today’s post on subject. To me, it makes sense how this relates to the theme of my blog. I hope it does to you too.

As I put together some of my last few posts about The Bridge of San Luis Rey over the weekend, a book that details the lives of people who fall to their deaths in the collapse of a rope bridge in Peru, I was reminded again about the randomness of tragedy.

Just last week, I posted about how this novel experienced a rebirth after September 11, when Tony Blair quoted a passage from the book during a memorial service for the victims of 9/11.

On the heels of the awful events in Aurora, Colorado last week, this novel seems relevant yet again.

In The Bridge, Thornton Wilder reminds us that any one of us could’ve been on that bridge, just like any one of us could have been watching Batman in that Aurora theater.

Wilder, through the main character Brother Juniper, attempts to explain the “why” of tragedy. Why were those 5 people on that bridge? What brought them all together at that moment? Why wasn’t it someone else?

Brother Juniper begins a process of going back through their lives, telling their stories, and trying to make sense of their deaths. It’s no surprise that a question of that magnitude doesn’t bring an answer that will satisfy everyone.

It’s a messy question with a messy answer—actually there is no real answer. I don’t think any human mind can ever understand why crap like this happens.

The point, though, is during that experience he discovers the humanity of each of those victims. He learns about them—the people they loved, the people who loved them, their hobbies, their trades, their triumphs, and even their mistakes. He learns about their stories.

The book isn’t about the bridge. The book is about the people who fell from the bridge.

Likewise, the media might continue to spotlight the cowardly bastard who committed these crimes in Aurora, feeding him the attention for which he is starved, but this isn’t about him.

He’s an afterthought—a blip on the radar of humanity. The sum of his life’s worth couldn’t be found in the fingernail of the beautiful six-year-old girl he killed.

The Aurora tragedy, like the story of San Luis Rey, is about the victims. So with inspiration from Brother Juniper in The Bridge of San Luis Rey, I share with you a little about each of the people who died.

It’s not that you couldn’t find any of this information on hundreds of news sites all over the internet. But here it is anyway:

Jonathan Blunk (Credit: Facebook)

Jonathan Blunk, 26,  planned on re-enlisting in the Navy to become a Navy Seal. He served three tours of duty in the Persian Gulf between 2004 and 2009 and will be buried with military honors. He died trying to protect his girlfriend. Blunk leaves behind his four-year-old daughter, Hailey, and his two-year-old son, Maximus. “He was supposed to fly [home to Reno] today,” his ex-wife told KRNV news in Reno. “Our daughter made him a welcome poster.”

Alexander (A.J.) Boik, 18, recently graduated high school and planned on attending Rocky Mountain College of Art & Design. He dreamed of becoming an art teacher and opening a studio. “He enjoyed his friends and family and always brought a smile and quick wit to every occasion. He was a talented young man who enjoyed baseball, making pottery and music,” his family said.

Jesse Childress, 29, was an Air Force Sergeant who died protecting a friend and fellow servicemember. The friend, Munirih Gravelly, told NBC in Los Angeles that he saved her life:  “I feel really sorry…that he’s gone…that none of us were able to at least hold his hand and look him in the eye while he passed. I lost a friend.”

Gordon Cowden, 51, had taken his two teenage children to the film premier. Cowden’s family released a statement that included the following: “”Loving father, outdoorsman and small business owner, Cowden was a true Texas gentleman that loved life and his family. A quick witted world traveler with a keen sense of humor, he will be remembered for his devotion to his children and for always trying his best to do the right thing, no matter the obstacle.”

Jessica Ghawi, 24, (image featured above) was an aspiring hockey journalist who recently moved to Denver. Just last month, Jessica narrowly escaped death in a similar shooting in a Toronto mall–an experience she wrote about on her blog. Jessica was active on social media. With her final tweet, she tweeted to a friend, “Movie doesn’t start for 20 minutes.”

John Larimer, 27, was a sailor stationed at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora. John’s girlfriend, Julia Vojstek, said he “immediately and instinctively covered me and brought me to the ground in order to protect me from any danger.” She said she was saved by John and “his ultimate kindness.”

Matt McQuinn, 27, also died while protecting his girlfriend from the line of fire. McQuinn met his girlfriend while working at a Target store in Springfield, Ohio. Last year, they both transferred to another Target in Aurora. “He was a great outgoing person,” said one of McQuinn’s co-workers. “We lost a great person and we still can’t picture or realize that he’s gone.”

Micayla Medek, 23, worked at Subway and planned on graduating from the Community College of Aurora in a few years. “I’m a simple independent girl who’s just trying to get her life together while still having fun,” she said on her Facebook page. For 20 hours after the tragedy, Medek’s family was uncertain of her fate. “I keep looking at her Facebook page, hoping she will say, ‘I am OK.’ Medek’s aunt told the LA Times. “But there’s nothing.”

Veronica Moser Sullivan (Credit: Family Photo)

Veronica Moser-Sullivan, 6, was the youngest of the 12 victims. Ashley Moser, Veronica’s mother, still remains in the hospital with wounds to her neck and abdomen. Veronica was very close with her grandfather, who recently died of leukemia, her grandmother told CBS. “She loved school, loved playing,” she said. “She had just started swimming lessons at a local recreation center, which she enjoyed. She was to start first grade in the fall.”

Alex Sullivan was celebrating his 27th birthday–and his first wedding anniversary–on Friday. Sullivan, a bartender, leaves behind his wife Cassandra and a loving family who waited for hours to hear about his confirmed death. “The Sullivan family lost a cherished member of their family today,” the family said. “Alex was smart, funny, and above all loved dearly by his friends and family.”

Alexander Teves, 24, had just earned a Master’s Degree in counseling psychology from the University of Denver. He was another hero who saved his girlfriend’s life, throwing her to the floor when the shooting began. “He pushed her to the floor to save her and he ended up getting a bullet,” said his aunt. “He was gonna hit the floor himself, but he never made it.” Teves’s friend, Caitlin, who was also in the theater, tweeted: “Alex Teves was a Arizona basketball fan, loved Spider-Man, was an amazing therapist, and died a hero.” She later added, “He could make us all laugh with his Gollum impression. I’ll never forget that.”

Rebecca Wingo (Credit: Facebook)

Rebecca Wingo, 32, was a mother of two daughters, ages 9 and 5, who had recently started a customer service job. She was fluent in Mandarin and had worked for the U.S. Air Force as a translator. She dreamed of becoming a social worker and helping teenagers transition out of the foster care system. “She would brighten a room,” her ex-husband, Robert, said. “She kind of had her own gravity to her, and that’s why so many people like her.”

These were people who got up every morning and went to work, went to school, ate lunch with friends, traveled during Christmas, got annoyed at long lines at the grocery store, hosted “game night” on Sundays, hated carrots but loved celery, never missed a Broncos game, and despised Bruce Willis films.

They were just like you and me. They had strengths, weakness, and quirks. They had a past–filled with both good and bad–and they dreamed of a bright future.

Still, the question remains: Why those people and why that theater?

The Bridge of San Luis Rey reminds us that life is fragile, and we can breathe our last at any given second. And the Aurora tragedy is yet another real-life reminder of that.

I’m not really sure where I’m going with today’s post. Basically, I was just too moved by what I see as an intersection between life and art—between the 12 real-life victims in Aurora and the 5 victims in the story of The Bridge.

I’ll close with the final passage from The Bridge Of San Luis Rey, the passage quoted by Tony Blair in the September 11 ceremony. In the wake of Aurora, these words seem as convicting as ever:

“Soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left the earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”

28 Comments Post a comment
  1. Allen #



    July 25, 2012
  2. A very moving post. Thankyou Robert.


    July 25, 2012
  3. Kathy #

    very poignant post … thank you


    July 25, 2012
  4. Jackie Paulson #

    This is a wonderful tribute, thanks.


    July 25, 2012
  5. Very well done, Robert. Thank you.


    July 25, 2012
  6. Thank you for this!


    July 25, 2012
  7. Nicely done Robert!


    July 25, 2012
  8. Beautiful. Thank you.


    July 25, 2012
  9. You have moved me to tears. Your best line, in my opinion, is where you say the shooter’s life is a blip on the fingernail of the six-year-old girl whom he killed. Thank you.


    July 25, 2012
    • I can’t imagine how cold and dead to the world someone must be to pull the trigger on a little girl. Unbelievable.


      July 25, 2012
  10. Great post, Robert. Thank you.


    July 25, 2012
  11. Ryan #

    In such a media age, it can be very easy for us (re: Me) to be caught up in the story while detached from the people in it. Forgetting that the people are the story – with their own unique journeys and identities – is sad but common. I Thank you for this thoughtful and very relevant post.


    July 25, 2012
  12. Unfortunately Denver residents of more than 13 years have experience in the subject of local massacres. They are a strange thing. Denver is a very small town and everyone has at least one if not several connections to the 300 people in the theater that night as well as the thousand at Columbine High School. We have been here before.

    As you point out in your post, the dead and wounded are no different than anyone reading this blog. The dead had ups and downs in their lives. For those left to remember (love?) their lives, we only remember the good…and that is as it should be.

    There will be plenty of speculation as to the ‘why’ of this massacre. However, I don’t think we have the capacity to ever really know the truth of why.


    July 25, 2012
    • I agree. It’s crazy how this stuff keeps hitting Denver. You guys are resilient. Stay strong.


      July 25, 2012
  13. Akorn #

    This almost made me cry. Thank you for sharing this


    July 25, 2012
  14. Lucille Ruga #

    As a recent fan of your project, I have been trying to read some of the 101 books that I have not yet encountered. Even though I read Wilder’s insightful story at least 40 years ago, I picked it up again, finishing it just two days before the tragedy at Aurora. Immediately upon hearing the news, I thought of the Marquesa, Esteban and Uncle Pio and the lessons learned on viewing their full lives. Thank you for sharing your thoughts today, and your encouragement of reading literary fiction that leads to both thinking and feeling.


    July 25, 2012
    • Welcome to the blog. I’m always amazed when I hear people discount fiction and say you can learn anything from it. That it’s fantasy. So untrue. This book is a prime example.


      July 25, 2012
  15. Amy #

    Very well written. Thank you.


    July 25, 2012
  16. Thank you.


    July 26, 2012
  17. Reblogged this on Inkings and Inklings.


    July 26, 2012
  18. E. Smith #

    Tragedy In Aurora
    sometimes life;s interrupted by someone’s evil plan
    contrary to the will of God; and we do not understand
    just why these actions happen, though we cannot explain
    \we shall not let it conquer us, and we shall rise again
    it was so unexpected, as shocking as could be
    gunshots turned just a night out into senseless tragedy
    some thought it was a portion of the Batman movie show
    until they looked around and saw the blood begin to flow
    and then chaos erupted, as they heard the gunshots pop
    and people stumbled, people ran and people even dropped
    oh i cannot imagine such a horrific scene
    but somehow in the midst of this God had to intervene
    for lying in a hospital bed, there was one wounded man
    who said, “i wouldn’t be here if the shotgun hadn’t jammed
    or one young man, who with his body shielded other folk
    he gave his life that they might live, and thus it gives us hope
    that though we know that wickedness sometimes doth raise its hand
    there is among us peace and love and righteousness shall stand
    and take its place within the hearts of those who still survive
    we comfort those who suffered loss and say, “keep hope alive”
    for we shall not let evil win; we shall not live in fear
    but know that through all pain and strife our God is always there
    and through the darkness of the night look to a brighter dawning
    for weeping may endure the night, but joy comes in the morning
    and though our hearts are broken now, we always will believe
    it comforts us to know that “Angels Walk With Those Who Grieve”
    aurora still shall carry on; it is a beautiful place
    and God is still surrounding us in his Amazing Grace”


    July 27, 2012
  19. I got full body chills because you are absolutely right the media does put too much focus on the monster who did this and doesn’t spend anywhere enough time highlighting the lives that were changed or lost completely. Thank you for taking time to relay that message to the rest of us that it isn’t about who did it’s about the people that were involved… the ones that will be forgotten about by the rest of us one day because we spend so much time focusing on the one who did it


    July 29, 2012

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Kipling Liked It! He Really Liked It! | 101 Books
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