AURORA, Colo. — Ten years after a gunman walked into the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora and opened fire, killing 12 people and hurting 70 others, survivor Marcus Weaver is reflecting on his long road to healing and recovery.
Weaver said on the day of the shooting, he was sure the hardest parts of his life were behind him.
Just four years earlier, in 2008, Weaver was in major legal trouble.
“I just graduated radiology school, top of my class," he said. "After I graduated, I went through this period where, because I had such a difficult childhood — a father who was abusive and grew up in that environment — I was what they call a ‘self-sabotager.’ I would reach success and then find a way to ruin it."
Weaver said he got in trouble with law enforcement, ended up in a high-speed chase with police officers, and was looking at spending the next 40 years in prison.
“I ended up spending about a year bouncing around to six different county jails.… So, when I saw the judge — I’ll never forget, I told him all the things I was going to do. I was going to start a family, write a book, start a nonprofit to help folks, you know, just do some great things in my community if he gave me a chance. The judge stopped me and said, ‘I’m going to give you a chance,'" Weaver said.
Weaver was released from prison three weeks later and spent the next four years keeping his promise to the judge.
“2012 was a year of real transition in my life. I remember I was working at Bud’s Warehouse, a transitional job training program and really was doing really well there helping guys transition out of jail or rehab,” Weaver said. “I got a phone call about a person who really wanted help starting a nonprofit for teens and so that girl was Rebecca Wingo and we became fast friends that summer.”
On July 19, 2012, Weaver spent the day hanging out with his new friend Wingo.
“It was one of the hottest summer on record that year and I had gotten up and gone swimming with Rebecca because we both had the day off. I was looking forward to seeing the Batman movie with her because she hadn’t seen any of the Batman movies,” Weaver said. “I went by the theater and grabbed the tickets that day. I knew I would want to go see it as soon as I could, which was the 12 o’clock showing on July 20."
Weaver told Wingo he would meet her at the theater.
“It was crowded. I walked into the theater — it was theatre 9 — and I got a seat in the fifth row,” Weaver said. “I got my seat, put my Bud’s Warehouse jacket down and saved two seats, went back out, and waited for her and then sure enough she showed up.”
Weaver and Wingo bought popcorn and drinks at the concession stand then went inside theater 9 shortly before the movie, "The Dark Knight Rises," began.
“About 10 minutes into the movie … you could see someone walking through the door and a smoke bomb goes off,” Weaver said. “I looked over to Rebecca and I said ‘I think somebody is ruining the movie, they’re lighting a smoke bomb.’ Then all of a sudden — this is the thing I will never forget as long as I live — you just hear this boom, boom, boom and it was almost like lightning was in the theater.”
Weaver said the movie continued while smoke filled the room.
“All of a sudden, you see this person just firing in this mask and I instinctively just got down and I got Rebecca down as well. I kept hearing the screams and the bullets hitting the front of the seat. The noise, it was just so much,” he said.
Weaver said as the shooting continued, he heard an omnipotent voice telling him that the shooting would stop and that would be his chance to escape.
“And I was just like, there is absolutely no way I’m getting out of this mess. I’m not going anywhere… About 5 seconds later he just, it just stopped. And all you heard was screaming and yelling for about, I would say about 5 to 10 seconds,” Weaver said. “I got up, I got Rebecca up, and I tried to go down the row, people were coming down the middle, bombarding through the middle, trying to get out and then all of a sudden you could hear the gunshots again. So, I fell down through the row, ended up getting on the left side of the theater to where I was able to crawl out. Rebecca fell back down into the chair and that was the last time I saw her.”
Outside the theatre, Weaver described a chaotic scene.
“They were dragging people out, kids that were just bloodied, a sea of ambulances, first responders, and this whole time the gunman was on the other side of the theater being arrested,” Weaver said. “A little girl comes up to me and says 'Your arm is bleeding' and I was like, 'What are you talking about?' And sure enough my arm was bleeding through my shirt and it just gushed all over.”
Weaver said paramedics had to persuade him to get into the ambulance.
“I didn’t want to leave. They had to pretty much throw me in there because my friend was still inside. I remember getting to that hospital and everybody’s looking at the TV and it still hadn’t dawned on me yet, the depth of what had happened to me,” Weaver said.
His mind was still on his friend Rebecca Wingo.
“As the day wore on, no one could find her. I thought maybe she was in a hospital. I got a call from a guy named Anderson Cooper wanting to know if I wanted to do an interview and see if it could help find my friend Rebecca,” Weaver said.
When reflecting on his decision to do the interview, Weaver said he questions if this was a good decision.
“Reliving it in front of a national audience… It was almost like I invited these strangers into my home,” Weaver said.
After Weaver completed the first wave of national and local interviews, he received an update about Wingo.
“I got home and I get a phone call from her brother saying that she was one of the 10 people still in the theater, that she just didn’t make it out,” Weaver said. “Even 10 years later, I remember what it felt like when I got that phone call…. The whole time we were interviewing she was in that theater.”
The next week, Weaver attended Wingo’s funeral.
“I hadn’t cried until after I… until after I got up and spoke and it was the first time I had cried. My mom, I’ll never forget, she put her hand on my back and I just wept,” Weaver said.
During the three years following the shooting, Weaver said his life was busy.
“It was so intense with media. I had gotten married, I was traveling around the country, I wrote a book. And then Maggie came. She became this symbol of the new life I was looking for, redemption,” Weaver said.
Maggie, who was born during the shooters trial, is now 7 years old and has grown up learning about Weaver’s friend, Rebecca Wingo, and that fateful night.
“The memorial — my dad tells me it’s for people that died and that lived,” Maggie said.
Weaver said he brought Maggie to the opening of the Aurora Theatre Shooting memorial and continues to take her there.
“When things aren’t going well in my life and when things are topsy-turvy in this world, I can come here and find some solace and hang out with Rebecca and some of the other folks who were with me,” Weaver said.
“The best thing about the group that I am in, this fraternity, sorority or whatever to want to call it, is we are survivors and we’re going to keep moving forward,” he continued.
Weaver said he spent years in therapy, but one of the most healing experience came from his participation in a retreat for mass shooting survivors.
“There were about six of us, one woman was from the South Carolina church shooting, another woman was from a shooting that happened in Portland a long time ago, a Columbine victim came, the guy from the Waffle House shooting in Nashville, he was my roommate and so we spent a week together and I swear out of all the treatment I had… I think it was the best because it came from people who also had lived the experience. People who knew what it felt like to not sleep, who had insomnia, to try to find answers to things that have been bothering you,” Weaver said.
He said following the retreat, after eight years of still hearing the terrifying noises from the theater, it seemed to stop replaying in his head.
“I don’t hear the sounds, I don’t hear the screams anymore, and I think it’s made me better, having that group around me,” Weaver said.
These days, he is still keeping busy.
“I work here at the Community Outreach Service Center and we operate on five pillars. We’re people working together to build a better community,” Weaver said. “Pastor Bob and Mrs. Eddie Woolfolk started the Outreach Center in 1988. During that time, the community was going through the crack epidemic. They’ve been mentors to me since I got out of trouble.”
Weaver said the center helps community members with basic needs.
“We help with employment. We have the People’s Pickles, which is a social entrepreneur program where we are able to employ folks. We also do housing. We have a transitional housing program,” Weaver said.
After a divorce from his first wife, he found love again and married Ashley Wheeland.
“When I met Ashley this past year, she was really the answer to prayer. I found love. I found my own place with somebody who understands me and understands all the things I’ve been through, who loves my daughter,” Weaver said.
“I just admired his bravery and that he would put himself out there to make the world a better place,” Wheeland said. “I just feel blessed and lucky to be a part of his story.”
But Weaver’s story includes navigating through tragic loss again.
“My father passed away in 2019,” Weaver said. “Over this past year I had a son who, my middle son, had historically not been doing well. He started having some problems during the pandemic with his mental health and we tried to get him help, and eventually he took his life two months ago.”
Weaver said tragedy will always be around the corner and when he’s confronted with it, he thinks about the theater shooting survivors and their family members who are still hurting.
“Some of us aren’t in a good place, some of us don’t have the great stories, and those are the ones I pray for every day — the ones I don’t see,” Weaver said.
He said even though he’s grateful for how his life has turned out, he still thinks about the theater shooting every day of his life.