|This undated photo provided by the family shows Jessica Ghawi. Ghawi is one of the 12 people killed when a gunman barged into a crowded theater, set off gas canisters and opened fire as spectators dove for cover and tried to flee, Friday, July 20, 2012, in Aurora, Colo. Dozens of others were injured, including 11 in critical condition. (AP Photo/Courtesy of the family)|
A look at the lives of Colorado shooting victims
AURORA, Colo.—A U.S. Navy veteran who served three tours of duty in the Middle East. A 6-year-old girl excited about her swimming classes. A Target employee who shielded his girlfriend and her brother with his own body. They and nine others were killed in the shooting rampage during a midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises" in a Denver suburb. Here are their stories:
Jonathan Blunk had high hopes for the future, with plans to re-enlist in the Navy and the goal of becoming a Navy SEAL.
The 26-year-old served three tours in the Persian Gulf and North Arabian Sea between 2004 and 2009, said close friend James Gill of Brighton, Colo.
"It was guts or glory for him," Gill told The Associated Press. "It always surprised me that he didn't serve in a situation more on the front line. He wanted to be a first responder on the front line."
Blunk was also a certified firefighter and emergency medical technician, Gill added.
He died in the shooting Friday after throwing himself in front of friend Jansen Young and saving her life, she told the NBC "Today" show. He told her to stay down.
"That's something he would do," Gill said. "If he was going to choose a way to die, that's how he wanted to go -- defending someone from a (person) like that."
Blunk, a 2004 graduate of Hug High School in Reno, Nev., most recently lived in Aurora and worked for a small flooring company.
His estranged wife, Chantel Blunk, lives with their 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son in Reno.
Alexander J. Boik, an 18-year-old known as AJ, had a reputation for making people laugh and tried to bring back the mullet hair cut in his freshman year of high school.
"He tried to rock the mullet," said Tyler Lynch, 20, who played baseball with Boik on their high school team.
Boik, a catcher who played on the team through his junior year, had recently graduated from
He was to start classes at the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design in the fall. Gateway principal Bill Hedges said Boik planned to become an art teacher.
A friend, Jordan Crofter, described Boik as someone who "didn't hold anything back. He was just his own person."
"He was a ball of joy. He was never sad or depressed. He wanted everybody to be happy," Crofter said.
The family said in a statement that the 18-year-old was loved by all who knew him and was dating "a beautiful young lady" who was with him at the theater and survived.
Crofter said Boik and his girlfriend made a "perfect couple," and people expected them to get married.
"If he were still here, he'd try to make everyone have a positive outlook of the situation and not allow it to affect their outlook of life," Crofter said.
Jesse Childress was an Air Force cyber-systems operator based at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora.
Air Force Capt. Andrew Williams described the 29-year-old from Thornton, Colo., as knowledgeable, experienced and respectful. "We're going to miss him incredibly," he said.
Tech Sgt. Alejandro Sanchez, a co-worker, told the AP that Childress was his good friend and they were on a bowling team together.
"He would help anyone and always was great for our Air Force unit," he said.
Another co-worker, Ashley Wassinger, said Childress "was a great person fun to be with, always positive and laughing."
"Really just an amazing person, and I am so lucky to have been his friend," she said.
Gordon Cowden loved life and his family, and he had gone to the midnight movie premiere with his two teenage children.
At 51, he was the oldest of the victims killed in the shooting. He lived in Aurora, but was described as a "true Texas gentleman" in a family statement. He loved the outdoors and owned his own business.
"A quick witted world traveler with a keen sense of humor, he will be remembered for his devotion to his children and for always trying his best to do the right thing, no matter the obstacle," his family said.
His teenage children escaped the shooting unharmed.
His family declined to be interviewed in their request for privacy but expressed appreciation for words of concern offered in the wake of the shooting.
"Our hearts go out to everyone that has been harmed by this senseless tragedy," they said.
Jessica Ghawi recently wrote a blog post after surviving a shooting at a Toronto mall, saying it showed her "how fragile life was."
Friends say the 24-year-old, who moved to Colorado from Texas about a year ago, didn't let the June 2 shooting in Toronto change her outlook on life as she pursued a career in sports journalism.
"I think she even looked at that like, `Hey, even after that, I'm able to pursue my dream,'" said Peter Burns, a radio sports show host with Mile High Sports Radio in Denver, where Ghawi recently interned.
That shooting left two dead and several injured. Her blog post last month said: "I saw the victims of a senseless crime. I saw lives change.
"I was reminded that we don't know when or where our time on Earth will end. When or where we will breathe our last breath."
Former colleagues described her as ambitious and hardworking. She went by the name "Redfield," a play on her red hair, because it was easy to say and remember, both professionally and on her social media accounts.
She was a regular tweeter and her last post to the micro-blogging website stated in all capital letters, "movie doesn't start for 20 minutes."
Brent Lowak, Ghawi's close friend who was with her at the theater, described to his family how he tried to tend to her wound before she was fatally shot.
Lowak was expected to make a full recovery from a wound in his backside.
"He wants so badly to be well enough to be at her memorial service," said his mother, Sue Greene.
John Larimer was a Navy sailor based at Buckley Air Force Base, where he was a cryptologic technician -- a job that the Navy says on its website should be filled by someone with "exceptionally good character, above-average writing and speaking skills, a good memory, curiosity and resourcefulness."
Those who knew him described him in similar terms.
The 27-year-old and another active service member, Air Force Sgt. Jesse Childress, were killed in the shooting rampage, the military said Saturday.
Larimer, who grew up in the Chicago suburb of Crystal Lake, Ill., joined the service just over a year ago, the Navy said.
"A valued member of our Navy team, he will be missed by all who knew him. My heart goes out to John's family, friends and loved ones, as well as to all the victims of this horrible tragedy," said Cmdr. Jeffrey Jakuboski, his commanding officer, in a written statement.
A family member told the Daily Herald newspaper in Arlington Heights, Ill., that Larimer was the youngest of five siblings. Neighbors in his hometown recalled his sense of humor.
"We love you, John, and we will miss you always," his parents said in a statement.
As the attack in the movie theater unfolded, Matt McQuinn dove in front of his girlfriend and her older brother to shield them from the gunfire.
He died protecting them, said Rob Scott, an Ohio attorney retained by the families of McQuinn and his girlfriend, Samantha Yowler. Scott confirmed McQuinn's death to The Associated Press. He was 27.
"Unfortunately, Matt McQuinn perished from the injuries he sustained during the tragic events that unfolded in Denver, Colorado, and went home to be with his maker," Scott said in a statement. "As both families mourn the loss of Matt, they ask for everyone to give them distance and time. Again, the families thank everyone for their love, prayers and ask that we respect their families' wishes."
Yowler was recovering from surgery after she was shot in the knee at the theater. Her 32-year-old brother, Nick Yowler, who also shielded his sister, was not injured.
McQuinn and Yowler moved to Colorado from Ohio last fall. A Colorado co-worker told the Springfield News-Sun that McQuinn and Samantha Yowler worked with her at Target.
"They're really fun people. We always go out together," said Melissa Downen.
Micayla Medek loved a night out with her friends, and she was with a group of about 10 of them at the "Dark Knight Rises" premiere.
Medek was "Cayla" to her family and friends. She was 23 years old and juggling classes at Aurora Community College with a job at a Subway sandwich shop, said her aunt Jenny Zakovich, 57, of South Milwaukee, Wis.
"She didn't know what she wanted to do," Zakovich said. "I think her plans were to finish community college and go into a better paying job -- probably in the computer field."
"It was probably just like going to church every Sunday," Zakovich said.
Zakovich said she was planning to look for tickets to a Packers game so her brother could surprise Medek and her sister.
Medek was an independent-minded and sweet girl who rarely asked her family for anything, Zakovich said.
"She was one who wouldn't hurt anybody. She was a very loving person. This shouldn't have happened to somebody like her."
The youngest of the victims killed in the attack was Veronica Moser-Sullivan.
She had just learned to swim, and at age 6, she was a "great little girl, excited about life," her great-aunt Annie Dalton said. "She should be at 6 years old."
Her mother, Ashley Moser, remains hospitalized with gunshot wounds to her neck and abdomen. She has been in and out of consciousness and asking for her daughter during moments of lucidity.
"Nobody can tell her about it," Dalton said. "She is in critical condition, but all she's asking about is her daughter."
Alex Sullivan's family called him "their real life super hero," and he was at "The Dark Knight Rises" premiere celebrating his 27th birthday and his first wedding anniversary.
"Alex was a gentle giant, known and loved by so many. He always had a glowing smile on his face and he made friends with everyone. Alex enjoyed all sorts of movies, was an avid comic book geek and loved the
Sullivan had a warm smile and an innocence that endeared him to people, said Shelly Fradkin, whose son Brian was good friends with Sullivan.
She sat next to a makeshift memorial Friday near the theater where an oversized birthday card with a photo of a smiling Sullivan was displayed.
"He's amazing. He was just a big teddy bear. Great hugs," she said.
She said Sullivan was such a big movie fan that he took jobs at theaters just to see movies.
Fradkin and her son spent an "excruciating" day trying to find Sullivan before learning of his death, she said.
"We're shocked. We're numb. We're sick," she said. "Our hearts are broken, and we're crushed."
Whether he was running through obstacle courses at a Tough Mudder competition or interning at a school for students with special needs, Alexander C. Teves saw life as an adventure.
"Alex will be remembered as an intelligent young man with a passion for living life to the fullest," said Mary Gomez, a counseling psychology professor at the University of Denver and one of Teves' graduate advisors.
Gomez said Teves was a compassionate, positive person.
"His top priority was his relationships. His loyalty is admirable and he always put his friends first," Gomez said.
The 24-year-old Phoenix native earned a master's degree in counseling psychology in June.
He was a lovable person who made friends quickly and had a lot of them, said his grandfather, Carlo Iacovelli of Barnegat, N.J.
As a boy, Teves moved from New Jersey to Phoenix with his parents. Iacovelli and his wife wintered there and spent a lot of time with him.
"He was what you might call an ideal grandson," Iacovelli said. "He was a fun guy. He loved to eat."
Teves was planning to become a psychiatrist, his grandfather said.
"He had a lot to look forward to," Iacovelli said.
While officiating the wedding ceremony for her two friends in 2010, Rebecca Wingo shed tears of happiness.
She had played a role in the two meeting each other, having taken her pal Cody Shafer out on the town the night he would meet his partner, Marq. So when the two men planned their nuptials, they knew Wingo had to be a part of it.
"That I'll have forever," he said. "Her laughter and then breaking down in the middle of our ceremony and crying."
Shafer and Wingo met in 2009 in an accounting class at a community college. Both single, recently out of the Air Force and new to town, they became fast friends.
"I don't think Rebecca ever met a stranger," Shafer said. "Her smile would just light up a room."
Wingo had started a job several months ago as a customer relations representative at a mobile medical imaging company.
Shafer said the 32-year-old was a hard-working single mother, balancing the raising of her two daughters with school and work.
"If she put her mind to something she was going to get it done," he said. "What an example she set for her little girls."
Associated Press writers who contributed to this report include Thomas Peipert and Ivan Moreno in Aurora; Dan Elliott and Matt Volz in Denver; Martin Griffith in Reno, Nev.; Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus, Ohio; Christopher Sherman in McAllen, Texas; and Michelle Price and Terry Tang in Phoenix.