AURORA | More than four years after the deadly theater shooting that shook Aurora and the nation, organizers behind the 7/20 Memorial Foundation have leapt ahead in their efforts to erect a permanent memorial in honor of the victims.
The roughly 10-person committee, comprised mostly of family members of the 12 people killed and some 70 people injured in the July 20, 2012 massacre, received an unexpected $115,000 donation from Aurora’s Colorado Community Church last month, a sum that catapulted the project past its $200,000 goal, the city announced last week.
“The congregation raised in four weeks what took us four years,” said Heather Dearman, vice chair of the memorial foundation.
Dearman’s cousin, Ashley Moser, was paralyzed in the theater shooting, and Moser’s 6-year-old daughter, Veronica Moser-Sullivan, was killed in the attack. Moser’s injuries also caused her to lose an unborn child.
While fundraising goals for the memorial have ebbed and flowed between $400,000 and $50,000 in recent years, the foundation had most recently targeted $200,000 as the amount needed to construct a permanent memorial. The recent donation puts the foundation’s total pot at about $220,000 according to Dearman.
“I think it’s another example of the heart and the resiliency of the residents of the city of Aurora,” said Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan. “We’ve had several groups related to our community who have stepped forward in a big way and the latest one from Colorado Community Church is almost overwhelming.”
Other sizable contributions for the memorial have come from the Havana Business Improvement District, Highpoint Church and a class of the Aurora Chamber of Commerce’s leadership course.
The latest contribution jumpstarts the public art selection process for the memorial project. While the timeline is still somewhat ambiguous, the city’s art in public places commission is expected to issue a national bid to artists later this fall, according to Dearman.
What the eventual piece of art may look like is still undecided, according to Dearman, who said that the final design will be left up to the artist. One of the few stipulations is that the piece must reside in a portion of the Aurora Xeriscape Garden beside the Aurora Municipal Center on East Alameda Parkway.
“It’s a completely blank slate,” Dearman said.
Dearman added that the call to artists will likely span the country in an effort to touch communities that helped with early fundraising or were tangentially tied to the massacre.
“We thought about just keeping it local but we had victims and families in the theater who are not in Colorado, so we don’t want to exclude anyone, because no one excluded us when they were giving us comfort,” she said.
One reason the commission had been slow to bring in funds was a lengthy trial process, Dearman added –— one that ended about three years after the initial tragedy. Dearman said, after the trial ended, it allowed the commission to turn its entire focus to fundraising.
“In the beginning, we were grieving families and it was very hard to come together during meetings and be able to talk about trying to raise money when you’re still in the middle of your grief and the trial was still looming,” she said. “Once the trial was over, things started happening and people’s hearts were a little freer.”
Hogan, who used to attend service at Colorado Community Church with his wife, Becky, said he never expected the fundraising effort to accelerate at such a rapid pace.
“I was expecting things to continue on that slow and steady pace, so the fact that it happened is a miracle,” he said. “It really is — it’s the only way to describe it. I don’t know that we have enough words of thanks.”
The 7/20 memorial foundation will continue to hold fundraising events throughout the fall to further bolster the artistic package, including a 5K run near the municipal center on Oct. 1, according to Dearman.
Parish leaders at Colorado Community Church did not return multiple requests for comment before press deadline.