AURORA, Colorado (AP) — Colorado residents looked for ways to heal as they marked the first anniversary of the Aurora movie theater massacre with a city-sponsored "Day of Remembrance."
It was one year ago Saturday that a gunman opened fire early into a packed midnight screening of the Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises." The rampage lasted less than two minutes but left deep wounds that still ache in Aurora, Colorado's third-largest city which spreads out across the rolling plains on Denver's eastern side.
Twelve people died, including a 6-year-old girl. Seventy were hurt, some of them paralyzed. Countless others inside the theater and out bear the invisible wounds of emotional trauma.
James Holmes, a once promising young neuroscientist, was arrested outside the theater after the rampage and accused of the shooting. Police say he had a rifle with a high-capacity magazine able to fire 100 bullets. Holmes has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, and his lawyers say he carried out the shootings "in the throes of a psychotic episode." Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
Parents, siblings and survivors of those slain attended a morning ceremony of prayer, song and remembrance outside Aurora's City Hall. Several hundred people — including police and fire personnel and members of Colorado's congressional delegation — bowed their heads as the names of the dead were read. A small bell tolled after each. The Hinkley High School choir sang "Amazing Grace."
"One year ago, the peace of our community was shattered," Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan said. "We are still seeking justice."
"It is important for us to remember that one senseless act does not, cannot and will not define us as a community," Hogan added. "This is a story of resilience, not just of Aurora but of humankind."
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper told the crowd that many people still struggle with unanswered questions.
"I know I do," Hickenlooper said.
Dr. Camilla Sasson, an emergency room physician at the University of Colorado, struggled through tears as she recounted the efforts of police and medical personnel to save lives.
"It is absolutely a miracle that 58 people survived that night," she said.
Mourners clutched white roses and, as the ceremony ended, laid them beneath a large wreath bearing the inscription, "In memory of those lost and those whose lives were forever changed." Several hundred yards (meters) from City Hall, people visited 12 crosses erected near the cinema where the attack took place.
For the rest of the day, residents were encouraged to volunteer for community projects ranging from painting at a church to tending a community garden, from sorting food bank donations to donating blood.
Spiritual and mental health counselors were available, along with art therapy projects and poetry readings.
Democratic state Rep. Rhonda Fields, whose district includes the renamed Cinemark theater, said she is still numb and in mourning.
"It hasn't fully mended after a year," she said.
Fields said she isn't surprised by that. Her son, Javad Marshall-Fields, and his fiancee were shot to death in 2005 to keep Marshall-Fields from testifying in a murder trial.
"I'm all too familiar to losing someone to gun violence," Fields said. "I know someone's missing that used to be part of the unit."
On Friday and into early Saturday, Fields and other volunteers read the names of the more than 2,500 people who have been killed in gun-related violence in the U.S. since the Newtown, Connecticut, school massacre in December. The last volunteer to read names was Stephen Barton, who was wounded last year in the theater shooting.
Immediately after Barton was finished, about 40 volunteers held a moment of silence at 12:38 a.m. Saturday, the time the shooting began one year earlier. The silence lasted for 82 seconds to represent the 12 people killed and the 70 who were wounded.
The ceremony under temporary flood lights at Cherry Creek State Park in Aurora was sponsored by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, not the city of Aurora. A gun rights group, Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, contended the ceremony wrongly politicized a tragedy to promote gun control, so it staged a counter-rally nearby.
Mayors Against Illegal Guns began running a TV ad Saturday in eight cities featuring Barton. In it, Barton describes his confusion during the attack and says he wondered afterward, "Why it had to happen to us at all? And who'll be next?" The spot is running in Denver, Washington, D.C., and six cities in states represented by U.S. senators who in April voted against a failed bill to expand background checks for gun purchases.
Associated Press writer Alan Fram contributed to this report from Washington.