As the people of Aurora and across the country struggle to come to grips with the senseless shooting spree by a single gunman at the midnight premiere of "The Dark Knight Rises" Friday, survivors are replaying those terrifying moments over and over again.
"I think about...the other people that weren't as lucky as I am. There were kids, mothers and fathers that were there, and they're dead. I'm still alive," Josh Nowlan said.
Nowlan, a two-time veteran of the Iraq War, could barely hold back his tears as he recounted the brief but hellish minutes inside Theater 9.
"The first night sleeping here was not very good because all I was getting was flashbacks of the shots and the people screaming, and of course my kids were still in my head."
Nowlan threw himself in front of his two friends--newlyweds--when shots began whizzing around him. That selfless act allowed his friends to escape unscathed, while Nowlan was shot twice in the left calf and right arm. His friends have remained by his side at the hospital, and told CNN their bond with Nowlan is no longer simply that of friends or even family, but something much deeper.
Another Iraq War veteran, Christine Blache, survived time in a combat zone only to find herself seriously injured in a place that is supposed to be safe.
"If you're going over to a war zone, you know there's the potential that you're going to be shot at. Potential that mortars are going to come over the wall. Potential that somebody is going to throw a grenade at you. Where if you're sitting in a movie theater trying to watch a movie with your friends, who expects to be shot in a movie theater? None of us did," the former airman told CNN.
Blache's friend Alex Sullivan was among the 12 killed Friday.
Brent Lowak was another survivor who lost a friend in the shooting spree. Jordan Ghawi, whose sister Jessica was killed inside the theater, recounted Lowak's heroism in a blog entry that has gone viral in the days since the shooting:
"Jessica advised multiple times for someone to call 911, which Brent immediately attempted to do. Brent then heard Jessica scream and noticed that she was struck by a round in the leg. Brent, began holding pressure on the wound and attempted to calm Jessica. It was at this time that Brent took a round to his lower extremities. While still administering first aid, Brent noticed that Jessica was no longer screaming. He advised that he looked over to Jessica and saw what appeared to be an entry wound to her head...Brent then took what may have been his only chance to escape the line of fire and exited the structure where he then contacted my mother. Brent’s actions are nothing but heroic."
Upon visiting with survivors Sunday, President Obama shared one account of a girl who wouldn't leave her friend's side even as bullets flew by her, quite likely saving her friend's life.
After Allie Young was shot in the neck, Stephanie Davies pulled her into an aisle and applied pressure to her wound. Young begged her friend to run, but Davies refused.
She "applied pressure the entire time while the gunman was still shooting," Obama recalled during a brief media conference. "Stephanie refused to go--instead, actually, with her other hand, called 911 on her cell phone. Once the SWAT team came in...Stephanie then, with the help of several other, carries Allie across two parking lots to where the ambulance is waiting.
"Because of Stephanie's timely actions, I just had a conversation with Allie downstairs, and she is going to be fine."
Stephen Barton told sister station KCNC he was just a few millimeters between life and death.
"The wound was somewhere around here [motions to throat] and just a few millimeters there. I don't think I would have left the hospital."
Barton said he still thought the flash he was seeing was part of the show when he got shot in the neck.
"At the time I thought it was still fireworks, and then I got hit here...I realized it was something much more serious."
Many survivors narrowly avoided becoming casualties themselves, forcing sober reflection on the randomness of who lived and who died.
“I beat you, I made it, you didn’t take my life. He didn’t take my friend’s life either,” Nowlan said. “I pray and feel so sorry for all the other families; you know the other men and women that didn’t make it. I just can’t imagine someone’s life being taken away like that.”
“I was worried more about curfew than I was worried about someone going into a theater and shooting my son—shooting children—not just my kid, but other people,” Christine Golditch said. Her son was in an adjoining theater, where errant rounds made their way into.
"It sounded like a firecracker just went off in the back of my head' Golditch's son Zack told KCNC. "I was like, 'Man, what is happening?' So I kind of fell over into my friend's lap."
Zack, 17, is a Colorado State University football recruit, one of a number of college athletes in attendance Friday. He sustained a wound below his earlobe.
Eric Hunter thought the gunshots were a stunt for opening night until three shots turned into 12. He managed to escape unharmed, helping two teen girls flee the theater. After staring death in the eye--in the form of the suspect, whose eyes he met as he escaped--Hunter said he appreciates life more.
"I'm going to live my life a bit better and just enjoy myself," Hunter said.
As for the killer's eyes: They "looked pretty intense," Hunter told CNN.
For one family, a weekend of sorrow has made way to a rare bright spot: the pregnant woman who escaped the attack uninjured is reportedly going into labor Monday.
The child's life was mere seconds from being snuffed out before it even begun: soon-to-be grandfather David Sanchez said his daughter, 21-year-old Katie Medley, barely made it out of the theater alive.
Katie's husband Caleb Medley is in a medically-induced coma after being shot in the eye. A friend tells 11 News that he is in critical but stable condition.
Some of the victims are still fighting for their lives, and might never be the same.
"There are people who have had already numerous surgeries, numerous brain surgeries. There are some folks that are in bad shape," Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan told "Face the Nation." "Some of these victims... are going to be paralyzed for life."
Hogan said the city is working on a donation process to assist with the medical needs of the victims, some who he said do not have health insurance.
"Any financial support would be greatly appreciated," Hogan said.
"We've heard from literally the world, and I'm thankful for that. And we'll get back to everybody and say thank you."
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