AURORA, Colorado (Reuters) - Some 500 students and community members gathered on a field in Aurora on Saturday night to mourn the killing of 18-year-old A.J. Boik, one of the youngest victims of a shooting rampage at the midnight premiere of the new Batman film in a Denver suburb.
In one of the first vigils for the victims, the crowd poured into the field at Gateway High School to celebrate the life of classmate Boik, who had just graduated in May.
"He was a very big part of this community," said Tami Avery, 41, whose son played sports with Boik, as she handed out candles to those who came to mourn his loss. "He will be dearly missed."
By all accounts Boik -- who was among a dozen killed and 58 wounded in the massacre -- was the glue that held together the lives of the young students who gathered on the grassy field inside the track of Gateway High School on Saturday evening.
Classmates and others remembered the student who would show up to any sporting event, from women's volleyball to men's football, covered in body paint and cheering the players on.
He did the same, friends say, in music, where he chaired the viola section in the school orchestra. He would offer a ready smile and help in getting instruments tuned just right to any and all of his fellow orchestra members, his friends said.
And he was an award-winning ceramic artist who was bound for Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design in the fall to study art education.
Earlier on Saturday, his name appeared on the coroner's list of deceased, published nearly 36 hours after the shooting: Alexander J. Boik, 9/20/1993.
His mother had to be carried from the vigil in tears. At the end of the ceremony, attendees released balloons in school colors into the air, and they blew towards the theater.
Gateway High School, just a few blocks from the site of the shooting at the Century 16 movie theater, was used as a command post and meeting place in the immediate aftermath of the mass shooting.
Later on Saturday, access to the sprawling mall where the theater is located was slowly opening up to the public, allowing a silent pilgrimage to begin.
Passersby trickled into a section of the mall parking lot that overlooks the entrance to the theater, where online videos posted in the hours after the attack showed terrified moviegoers streaming out of the front doors in horror, some of them covered in blood.
Some people snapped photos, and others just drove slowly by the complex, with its yellow purple and blue facade, now an ever-present reminder of the tragedy.
The suspect, James Holmes, a 24-year-old graduate school dropout, is in police custody and accused of killing 12 and injuring 58 people at the local multiplex theater.
Reporting by Mary Slosson; Editing by Tim Gaynor and Sandra Maler