July 21 The phone rang about 1 a.m.
Greg Medek was jolted awake. One of his daughter's friends was on the phone. The news was impossible to comprehend.
Medek's 23-year-old daughter, Micayla, had been shot at a midnight showing of the new Batman movie in her hometown of Aurora. She'd been there with a group of friends. When the chaos erupted, they made it out. She had not.
For the next 20 hours, Micayla's family would search for her.
Her sister, Amanda, drove from hospital to hospital with Micayla's photo, desperate to find someone who might have seen her. Her father frantically pleaded for information from authorities who had set up a staging area at a local high school.
"They searched and searched and searched and searched for her," said her aunt, Jenny Zakovich, who lives in Wisconsin.
Zacovich had gotten a call from her brother, Greg, telling her of that 1 a.m. alert. "He was sobbing, 'I lost my Cayla, I lost my Cayla. I want to bring my baby home,'" she recalled. "The unknown," she said, "was just eating him up alive."
Medek was not alone in searching through that long night and the even longer day that followed. As the names of victims have emerged, so have the stories of their loved ones, many of whom did not get confirmation of the deaths for up to 20 agonizing hours. Police said all were notified by Friday night, but they have yet to release the names of victims.
The theater had been packed with people in their teens and 20s, thrilled to have tickets to the local premiere of the latest comic-book blockbuster.
Denver had been sweltering under 100-degree temperatures for days. The theater offered an air-conditioned respite. And the crowd was primed for fun. Some wore costumes. Others brought their kids, letting them stay up way past bedtime for the treat of seeing Batman come alive on the big screen. One young couple even brought their infant son to the theater.
Matt McQuinn, 27, went to the multiplex with his girlfriend, Samantha Yowler, and her older brother, Nick.
The couple had moved to Denver from Dayton, Ohio, last fall. Both worked at a local Target, according to Robert Scott, an attorney representing the McQuinn and Yowler families.
When the shooting started, McQuinn threw himself over his girlfriend, trying to protect her from the barrage of bullets, Scott said. Samantha's brother also used his body as shield, he said.
Samantha was hit in the knee and is now recovering from surgery.
McQuinn was fatally wounded.
His parents got confirmation late Friday night, about 20 hours after the shooting, Scott said.
John Larimer, 27, was another victim. A petty officer in the Navy who specialized in cryptology, Larimer was stationed at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora. "He was an outstanding shipmate," his commanding officer, Commander Jeffrey Jakuboski, said in a statement released by the Navy. "He will be missed by all who knew him."
The Buckley base also lost Air Force Staff Sergeant Jesse Childress, 29, a reservist who had been called to active duty as a cyber systems operator, the military said.
The Denver Post reported that among the other fatalities was a six-year-old girl, Veronica Moser. Her mother, Ashley Moser, remains in critical condition with a gunshot wound to the abdomen, the Post reported.
Other fatalities included Jessica Ghawi, a 24-year-old hockey fanatic who dreamed of a career in sports journalism, and Alex Sullivan, who was celebrating his 27th birthday at the midnight screening.
'I'VE BEEN SHOT!"
Micayla Medek had posted her plans for the Batman film on her Facebook page. She had called her dad, too, to let him know, said Zakovich, her aunt. "She was really excited about it," Zakovich said.
Micayla's friends later told the family that as the shooting started, she called out "I've been shot!" and fell to the ground, coughing. Her friends moved to help but were hustled out of the theater by authorities, Zakovich said.
Throughout the excruciating wait, Zakovich said she tried to keep the family's spirits up. She reminded them that Micayla usually left her wallet locked in her car, tucked away under the seat, when she went to the movies, so she might not have had any identification on her.
The family heard rumors about more than a dozen victims who had been hospitalized without IDs. Maybe, they thought, Micayla was one of them. Perhaps she was too dazed to talk, to text, to call.
Micayla, her aunt said, was "a free spirit, a happy person who loved life" and was extremely close to her father. She worked at a Subway - her Facebook page called her a sandwich artist - and attended community college. She described herself on the page as a simple, independent girl "who's just trying to get her life together while still having fun."
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