PERRY: 6 years isn’t long enough to begin healing from Aurora theater shooting — because nothing has changed

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FILE – In this July 20, 2012 file photo, Tom Sullivan, center, embraces family members after losing his son Alex in the Aurora movie theater shooting (AP Photo/Barry Gutierrez, file)

It’s still too soon.

Six years have passed since July 20, 2012, when Aurora became home to what was then America’s worst gun massacre.

This week, that same sickening terror flooded back as I was working on a story by Sentinel reporter Ramsey Scott about the city’s annual night-time event marking the Aurora theater shooting.

After years of planning, a stunning sculpture now graces a permanent memorial garden near City Hall, which will be the site of this year’s annual, and sixth, vigil.

7.20.12 Remembered

• 7.20.2012 — 6 Years After The Aurora Theater Shooting

• 7/20: Aurora theater shooting victims remembered at new memorial garden, 6 years after…

• PERRY: 6 years isn’t long enough to begin healing from Aurora theater shooting, because nothing has changed

Sculpture in honor of Aurora shooting victims completed…

While looking through some past photos, I came across a portrait of AJ Boik, a young man with an electric smile who was one of 12 people shot dead during the massacre. The portrait was the only photo we could find just a few hours after the bloodbath at the cinema, just steps from the Sentinel newsroom.

After six years and endless stories, columns and editorials about that disaster, a forgotten photo, a drive by the vacant field where the makeshift memorial sprung up near the site of the shooting, the voice of one of the family members of the victims, it all comes back in a sickening and overwhelming flood of emotion.

This year, as the amazing memorial sculpture is unveiled to the world, the community wants to send a message that we now celebrate the lives, rather than the losses of victims and their families.

Designers of the sculpture garden, which focuses on dozens of soaring cranes, want the world to know this will be a place not of sadness, but of honor.

It’s too soon for me.

Six years hasn’t dulled the sheer horror of seeing Tom Sullivan’s face outside Gateway High School as he desperately waved a photo of his son, Alex Sullivan. Just hours after the shooting, when it was still unclear how many were dead or injured and who they were, a panicked Tom Sullivan begged other victims and rescuers for information about where his son was.

At that moment, I became Tom Sullivan. We all did. Everyone in Aurora who has a child died inside with Tom as his horror became reality.

That memory is as visceral today as it was watching Tom six years ago.

Of course that was just the beginning of a ghastly torrent of terror as details of the attack unfolded.

But besides the sickness that reliving the massacre makes overwhelming, I’m left with a sense of anger like never before.

As we tick off each year since Aurora was that place that every mom, dad and community leader desperately hopes never besets them, the list of schools and clubs and even concerts that become targets of gun violence grows ever longer.

How, after hundreds of children and dads and pals and lovers have been brutally gunned down in public can we, as a nation, shrug it off as just the price we pay for being a free country?

Since the last time I touched this high-voltage nightmare a year ago, and was equally overwhelmed by the tragedy again, an entirely new list of victims and communities have joined Aurora’s elite club, that becomes less so every month.

The mass shootings come so frequently and with such similarity that I have difficulty recalling them and keeping them straight.

We are hostages in our own country. We are terrorized by an obsession with guns that is picking us off one school, one office, one concert, one victim at a time.

This isn’t freedom. Freedom isn’t a predictable panic every time a school or college shooting alert comes across your phone, petrified that it might be at your own kid’s school. I can’t justify terror and murder as the fair price to be paid for anything.

Rather than allow for adult conversations about what we can do to stem the growing herd of sick and warped Americans willing to murder strangers in public, we politicize it.

Mass murder is not a partisan affair. Ignoring it is.

And that’s exactly what Americans are doing here. In a country where no challenge has ever, ever been too great, the battle to keep our sickest friends, family members and neighbors from shooting us dead at malls, theaters, schools and night clubs isn’t beyond us, it’s just beyond discussing.

Held hostage by sadistic bullies at the National Rifle Association and their subservient puppets in Congress and state legislatures across the nation, politicians won’t even allow experts at agencies like the Center for Disease Control to study gun violence.

Rather than look for real answers, we offer up false hope and nonsense in arming teachers to protect or children, rather than keeping crazed gunmen out of the schools to begin with.

I like the idea of a place dedicated to how wonderful those who lost their lives to gun violence really were. But I can’t yet get over that we are a nation of cowards for not doing something to shorten the list of wonderful people killed by preventable gun violence instead.

I guess it’s still too soon.

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