Victims of Colorado massacre remembered

Story highlights

  • Matthew McQuinn died while shielding his girlfriend from bullets
  • 6-year-old Veronica Moser-Sullivan was a "vibrant little girl"
  • Alex Teves had just graduated from the University of Denver

Aurora, Colorado (CNN)Stories of heroism, zest for life, a birthday celebration. These were the stories that were cut short on a summer night two and a half years ago at an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater.

James Holmes, 27, is accused of opening fire inside a movie theater on July 20, 2012, during a midnight showing of the Batman film, "The Dark Knight Rises." Twelve people died and 58 were injured.
Holmes has been charged with 152 counts and has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.
    Almost all of the 12 victims were young -- including a 6-year-old girl who had just learned to swim.
    Jonathan T. Blunk, 26
    Blunk served five years in the U.S. Navy. He had been planning to fly the next day to Reno, Nevada, to see his wife, Chantel, his 4-year-old daughter and his 2-year-old son.
    "We were going to have a family day," Chantel Blunk said.
    Instead, she put away the dress her daughter had picked out to wear to the airport. "I tried to tell her we wouldn't see Daddy anymore, but that he would still love us and look over us."
    The couple married in 2007 and separated in 2010, she said. They remained on good terms after Jonathan moved to Colorado. Blunk died shielding his girlfriend from the gunfire inside the theater.
    Chantel Blunk said she will remember Jonathan's humor, spontaneity and attention to family. "We love him and he is going to be remembered as a hero," she said.
    Alexander J. Boik, 18
    A Facebook page was created in memory of Boik, a Gateway High School student who was at the theater with his girlfriend and a friend.
    "AJ was an awesome kid and a truly Inspirational teammate," one Facebook entry said. "You can't find someone with a brighter smile and more positive outlook on life. There to help you up when your down and One to carry on life with such an intelligence."
    Boik was an independent distributor for Organo Gold, a coffee company, and lived in Aurora, according to what appears to be his personal Facebook page.
    James Crofter, father of Jordan Crofter, Boik's friend who survived the shooting, said Jordan and Boik played lacrosse together. Boik's girlfriend also was in the theater. She and Jordan found each other outside the theater, but Boik did not make it out.
    Air Force Staff Sgt. Jesse E. Childress, 29
    Childress, an Air Force reservist, was a cybersystems operator on active duty with the 310th Force Support Squadron at Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado. He was from Thornton, Colorado.
    "Jesse was an invaluable part of the 310th family," said Lt. Col. Pat Walsh, who was Childress' supervisor, according to The Washington Post. "He literally touched everyone in the wing -- over 1,000 people."
    Three of Childress' Air Force colleagues traveled from Buckley to honor him at a memorial near the theater, The Denver Post reported.
    "He was a huge part of our unit, and this is a terrible loss. The person that did this was an incredible coward," said Air Force Chief Master Sergeant Schwald, according to the Denver newspaper. She declined to give her first name.
    Gordon W. Cowden, 51
    Cowden took his two teenage children to the theater. His children escaped unharmed.
    A family spokesman described Cowden as a "loving father, outdoorsman and small-business owner," according to the Ventura County Star in California.
    "Cowden was a true Texas gentleman that loved life and his family. 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."
    Jessica Ghawi, 24
    Aspiring sports reporter Ghawi narrowly avoided a shooting in Toronto just a month before the Aurora shooting -- an incident that prompted her to reflect on life on her blog.
    The Toronto shooting at the Eaton Centre left one person dead and seven wounded.
    "I was shown how fragile life was ... I saw the terror on bystanders' faces. I saw the victims of a senseless crime. I saw lives change," she wrote at the time. "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."
    Ghawi, who also went by the name Jessica Redfield, grew up in Texas and interned at Ticket 760, a sports radio station in San Antonio, before moving to Denver to try to break into the television market there.
    Petty Officer 3rd Class John Thomas Larimer, 27
    Like his father and grandfather, Larimer chose to join the U.S. Navy. He was serving at his first post, said his father, Scott Larimer.
    "He was an outstanding shipmate, a valued member of our Navy team and an extremely dedicated sailor," said Cmdr. Jeffrey Jakuboski. "Sailors were really drawn to his calming demeanor and exceptional work ethic. He was also known as that quiet, extremely competent professional."
    "He was doing extraordinarily well" and had a bright future ahead of him, Jakuboski said.
    His unit, part of U.S. Fleet Cyber Command/U.S. 10th Fleet, was stationed at Buckley AFB. Larimer had been in the service for about one year. He had not seen combat.
    "We send our thoughts and prayers out to the families of the other victims" and the wounded, his family said. "We love you, John, and we will miss you always."
    Matthew R. McQuinn, 27
    McQuinn died trying to provide cover for his girlfriend, Samantha Yowler, during the shooting, according to family attorney Rob Scott.
    Yowler and her brother Nick, who also was trying to protect her from the bullets, both survived.
    McQuinn and Samantha Yowler grew up in the Miami Valley region of Ohio, according to CNN affiliate WKEF. The two had been dating for a couple of years.
    McQuinn graduated from Vandalia-Butler High School in 2004. The couple met at a Springfield, Ohio, Target store and moved in 2011 to Denver, the Dayton Daily News reported.
    The victim's stepfather, David Jackson, told CNN Dayton affiliate WHIO that the couple was planning to move back to Springfield soon.
    "I know he's a hero," said Jackson. "He and Sam were very much in love and planning their life together. I am sure they were thinking very seriously of getting married soon."
    Micayla C. Medek, 23
    Medek, known to her friends as Cayla, was "very spiritual and close to God," cousin Anita Busch told CNN. Her family is tight-knit, Busch said.
    Medek's Facebook page described her as a "sandwich artist/closer" at Subway in Aurora, and a student of general studies at the Community College of Aurora with plans to graduate in 2015.
    She lived in Westminster, Colorado, but was from Aurora, Busch said. "I'm a simple independent girl who's just trying to get her life together while still having fun," Medek wrote on her Facebook page.
    Veronica Moser-Sullivan, 6
    Thirteen-year-old Kaylan was Veronica's babysitter, and she was seated with the girl and Veronica's mother when the shooting began. "He just kept firing and then he would stop like he was reloading and he kept firing at anyone he saw," Kaylan told CNN.
    Kaylan watched as three people with her were shot -- Veronica, the girl's mother, Ashley Moser, and their pastor, Michael Walker.
    "I felt like it was partly my job to protect her, and even if I wasn't her babysitter I would still feel that same because she was just a child," she said.
    Lying on the theater floor, she called 911, then put her hand on Veronica's ribcage to see if she was breathing. "But she wasn't breathing so I started freaking out and then they told me to do CPR, and I told them I couldn't because her mother was on top of her and couldn't move."
    Described as a "vibrant little girl," Veronica -- an only child -- had just learned to swim and was "excited about life," her great-aunt said.
    The girl's 25-year-old mother was critically injured, with wounds to the neck and abdomen, said Moser's niece, Annie Dalton. "Her whole life has changed in a flash, for what?"
    Moser had just been accepted into a licensed practical nurse program, Dalton told reporters. "Obviously, with this injury she is not going to be able to start school like she planned."
    Alex M. Sullivan, 27
    Alex "Sully" Sullivan went to the movie to celebrate his birthday, two days before the first anniversary of his marriage to Cassie.
    "Oh man one hour till the movie and its going to be the best BIRTHDAY ever," he tweeted.
    "The Sullivan family lost a cherished member of their family," a representative said in a statement. "Alex was smart, funny, and above all loved dearly by his friends and family."
    His uncle, Jim Loewenguth, said Sullivan was "full of joy" and "never had a bad chip on his shoulder."
    Alexander C. Teves, 24
    Alexander Teves had graduated from the University of Denver with a master's degree in counseling psychology.
    Teves died protecting his girlfriend, Amanda Lindgren.
    "I wouldn't be here without him," Lindgren told CNN in the days after the shooting.
    His aunt, Barbara Slivinske, said Alex was living in Colorado and had just completed graduate school there in June. "He was a wonderful nephew."
    Rebecca Ann Wingo, 32
    Rebecca Wingo was originally from Quinlan, Texas, and lived in Aurora, Colorado. Her father, Steve Hernandez, announced his daughter's death on Facebook, saying, "my grief right now is inconsolable."
    "I hear she died instantly, without pain, however the pain is unbearable. Lord why, why, why????" Hernandez wrote. "I sit here and resist this entry however I feel I must, in disgust, in dismay, in prayer, I love you my daughter Rebecca, we all will miss you."
    Wingo joined the Air Force after high school, became fluent in Mandarin and served as a translator, according to CNN Dallas-Fort Worth affiliate WFAA.
    She had "the sweetest smile you've ever seen," said friend Hal Wallace. "She got prettier as she grew older."
    Wingo moved to Colorado with her two young girls, and wrote about how the younger one was excited about starting kindergarten.
    Said Wallace: "In the blink of an eye something happens and completely changes everyone's life -- forever."