Surviving the unthinkable
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Outside of Marcus Weaver’s unwavering faith in God, he believes in one mantra: Time heals all wounds.Those words have never been so true for Weaver, a former Roaring Fork Valley resident and survivor of the deadly Aurora, Colo., shooting on July 20. He is one of the moviegoers seated in theater 9 of the movie multiplex – 58 injured and those unhurt – who literally escaped death. He expected to watch a midnight movie showing of “The Dark Night Rises” in those early morning hours with a new friend he met on Facebook two months prior. Instead, several minutes into the film, a lone gunman entered theater 9 and forever changed his life.And the lives of countless others victimized in the tragedy.”Having national media attention, being in a theatre when a shooting happens, burying a friend at 32 – you can never prepare for something like that,” he said.
On the night of July 19, Weaver met his friend, 32-year-old Rebecca Wing, who worked late that evening, for the highly anticipated Batman movie premiere. He remembers the crowds of people – including many kids and families, he said – who crowded into the multiplex for their first peek at the new film at midnight.””They were letting people in two hours early. It was packed,” he said. “I got the ‘lucky’ ticket to go to theater 9.”Once in the theatre, Weaver found a seat in the fifth row, center to the screen. Wingo soon joined him. They had just started to get into the beginning of the film when Weaver recalls hearing a hissing sound similar to a bottle rocket. “The theatre was smoking on the left side and we started coughing,” he said. “We thought it was part of the movie.”He recalls sharing a quick conversation with Wingo on how surprised they were someone would bring smoke bombs to a movie. Those are the last words he remembers before the shots began firing and the screaming and panic ensued. A voice in his head told him to get down, and he insists it was God. “This is the thing I’ll never forget as long as I live, I just remember that standing in front of the screen was a dark figure,” Weaver said. “I saw the white light emanating from his gun and you could hear the bullets hitting the seat.”Weaver recalls the six, 5-10 second intervals when the gunman stopped to reload his semi-automatic weapons before resuming his deadly spree. The mass shooting left 12 dead, including Wingo, a mother of two. “I just kept seeing the white of the gun and thinking I had to get Rebecca and get out of the theatre,” Weaver said. “The shooting stopped so I get up and grabbed Rebecca. … She was unconscious. I saw people shot in the legs, with head injuries, people giving CPR. That’s when I was hit.”
Weaver knows his wounds will take time to heal. He has two bullet entry wounds in his right shoulder, above a heart-shaped tattoo. There are also two scars from surgery to remove the bullets that will always serve as a reminder of July 20. Doctors say he has nerve damage that causes his arm to go numb. He wants to believe that time heals all wounds – physical and mental. But he knows that may never be the case.”In the first few days, the best thing one of the psychologists told me was that God gives us free will, and that we all make choices with that free will,” he said. “That I couldn’t have done anything to stop the shooter. I don’t necessarily think it was the devil who was there, but I know he definitely had evil forces working with him.”For Weaver, the nightmares come nightly, waking him several times per night. He sees the Batman movie. Images of the shooter haunt him while he sleeps.”I just relive that night – all the faces and the sounds,” he said. Over the Labor Day weekend, Weaver found solace in the mountains of the Western Slope, where he lived from 2000-2004. Saturday night’s Mumford & Sons concert at the Jazz Aspen Snowmass music festival helped Weaver enjoy the first night of peaceful sleep.”I slept like a baby with no nightmares,” he said.Weaver credits the Roaring Fork Valley for his strong faith and beliefs. The 41-year-old Virginia Beach native said he spent many years in Aspen with little direction, finding trouble before later finding God. He moved downvalley to Glenwood Springs to work as an operating room tech at Valley View Hospital, developing an interest in radiology. After his 20-year-old sister died from liver disease, he looked to religion to help him make sense of her death at a young age. A friend at the hospital, Lynn Rowe, introduced him to the teachings of the Bible. He was later baptized on Easter of 2005 at the Church of Christ in Rifle.”That was a changing point,” he said. “If it wasn’t for the Rowe family, I would not be here today.”
Weaver moved to Denver and said he spent about 10 months, between 2006-2007, attending both Bible study and radiology school. He said his life took a dark turn when he was involved in a theft ring, reselling stolen computer equipment, and he was later involved in a high-speed police chase in Denver. The crash that followed could have nearly caused renal kidney failure. He was convicted and served four months with good behavior at the Sterling Correctional Facility. In prison, Weaver focused on religion and vowed to help those coming out of the prison system. Once out of prison, he helped teach life skills and took solar energy classes in Denver.”I would go talk to prisoners, help people get jobs,” he said.Today, Weaver is operations manager for Denver home improvement thrift store Bud’s Warehouse. The company is a nonprofit training program that helps former prisoners and others rebuilding their lives.”Spending time at the Roaring Fork Valley helps me. Being back in the valley reminds me of how far I’ve come,” he said. “I know this will take time. Know I didn’t mess up; someone did this to me. I take things seriously now. I look at the color of roses. I look at the color of balloons. I keep telling people it was God’s grace that I made it out of the theater.”
After July 20, Weaver’s life will inarguably never be the same. He survived Colorado’s deadliest shooting since the Columbine High School tragedy on April 20, 1999. He is nervous in crowds – at the concerts he attended in Snowmass, he preferred to stand near the edge of the crowd. He has nerve damage in his right arm. There are the dark nightmares. And there are the memories of a sweet friend lost too soon.”My arm’s getting better, my head’s better. The whole thing is about forgiveness – that’s why I’m getting better,” he said. “First of all, my friend wouldn’t want me not to forgive. I don’t feel like a hero, but it inspires people. I’m trying to balance and just trying to do normal things, like hang out with my friends.”Weaver is coping with the Aurora tragedy and his grief by surrounding himself with family and friends, like George Davis, of Denver, who accompanied him on his Labor Day weekend trip. A major movie buff, he even attended a showing of “The Dark Night Rises” in another theatre, coincidentally numbered 9. Weaver knows the ongoing case against Aurora suspect James Holmes will not be over soon. He knows one day he will see the aurora shooter again, and not just in nightmares.”One day I’ll have to face the man who did this,” he said. “I would just like to look him in the eye and say I wish you would have thought about what you did before you did it. You ruined a community, the people, and you ruined a simple thing like going to the movies, a place that’s supposed to be safe, for entertainment and a place to escape. Time does heal, but this is a tough one.”
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