As a 13-year-old boy, living in Aurora’s Village East neighborhood, I remember my father growing more concerned as violence nearly knocked on his doorstep. A shooting at the nearby Chuck E. Cheese restaurant less than a mile away from my childhood home had my dad nervous.
My brother and I rode our bikes past there all the time. The suspect came from the same high school my brother attended. Five people were killed in that restaurant. I went to countless birthday parties there.
“It’s time to get out of here,” Dad said. “I don’t want you kids to see that.”
We left 1930 S. Moline Way on Friday, March 13, 1994. House packed, cars loaded, dogs, too. We could leave the event, I thought, but I couldn’t leave my home.
As a teenager, I moved from state to state, with Aurora never really far from my mind. I told people I was from Aurora — “Basically Denver,” if they didn’t understand — then asked if they recalled as vividly as I could the shootings that shaped my childhood as much as anything else.
“They had it on the ‘Today’ show and everything,” I frequently told strangers. “Do you remember that?”
A handful of “yeah-I-think-I-do” responses came from that question over the years, but not many. I’m guessing most of those people know where Aurora is now.
Probably for the all the wrong reasons after this week.
On July 20, 2012, I rushed to work early in the morning after a colleague called.
“Wait, what?” I said. “What happened? Which theater?”
Now, as a 30-year-old man living on the doorstep of the city I grew up in, I remember my father wanting to protect his children from violence like what happened at Century Aurora 16 last week. There’s nowhere to run. And I’m staying this time.
Like so many in Aurora who can connect their lives to the tragedies that have occurred here, I can trace my maturation as a man through both. And I want to watch the maturation of our city unfold in the same way.
Despite unspeakable tragedy, our city — our homes — will grow.
I didn’t get to hear stories after the Chuck E. Cheese murders. I imagine that stories of bravery, hardship and unspeakable loss coming from that event snaked through this city like Tollgate Creek.
I hear stories now:
The boyfriend who threw himself in front of bullets to save his loved ones, the high school student with more promise than I ever had whose gone now, and a hard-working single mother whose smile “would just light up a room,” and she’s gone.
There’s the stories of the Buckley victims, part of the Air Force community that my mom worked for when she was alive.
There are the stories of the mothers, fathers, brothers, daughters — even the journalist, starting as a sports reporter just as I did a decade ago.
The victims and the survivors will help define Aurora going forward. Their courage and bravery are the stories that 13-year-olds in this city need to read.
I only hope we can all identify with the victims the way I can. They’re all a part of us now and we’re a part of them. That’s partially why the brutality and senselessness hit home for all of us. We’ve been to movie theaters. I’ve seen movies at the Century Aurora 16 theather.
My father didn’t understand that the violence wasn’t what he moved away from. He moved away from the recovery and healing that we should have stayed to watch.
The victims are what shaped our city after the shooting in 1993. We’re starting to see now how much we can learn from the victims of this shooting.
I’m staying this time.
I want to grow up again with this city.
Aaron Cole is managing editor of The Aurora Sentinel. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or at email@example.com