This post comes to us from Danelle Schlegelmilch, a Red Cross volunteer who was deployed to Aurora after the horrific theater shootings on July 20th.
Friday morning, I woke up to the news report of the theatre shooting in Aurora, and my heart was immediately aching. When I got the call from the Red Cross to deploy to help in Aurora late Friday night I knew as that hard as it would be- I had to go. A few hours later I was on a plane to Denver.
I headed straight to the Red Cross Shelter at Aurora Central High School to lend my assistance. I arrived right after two city buses had just dropped off residents that were evacuated from the shooter’s apartment complex after their utilities were cut so authorities could disarm the bombs in his apartment.
They joined families who were given a moment’s on Friday to grab their belongings and get out of their apartments located close to the booby trapped apartment. Early Saturday morning, a dozen people who were also displaced by another disaster arrived at the shelter – a 24 unit apartment fire in Aurora left them immediately homeless. Here they could escape the 100 degree temps, have cool drinks and hot meals, a safe place to rest their heads and the shoulder of a Red Cross volunteer to cry on.
Saturday morning the shelter quickly turned into a community gathering place for those in need of comfort and care. In all, 100 people (55 adults and 45 children) called the shelter “home” at one point this weekend. The circumstances that brought these people to the shelter varied, but they all had one thing in common: they couldn’t return home.
As I talked to families I could tell they were shaken but not defeated. They told me that you don’t appreciate your home until you don’t have it anymore. I saw neighbors reconnecting, children playing and healing beginning. They voiced their gratefulness of the Red Cross and its caring, smiling, kind and friendly volunteers.
Parents had the difficult job of trying to put into words why they had to leave their home and why their neighbor had bombs in his apartment. Trained Red Cross Mental Health Volunteers offered families support and made sure they were taken care of emotionally.
I can say with confidence that Aurora and its people are on the right path to recovery after last nights all city prayer vigil. Thousands showed up with candles, signs, balloons, hugs, tears and support. Aurora Mayor Hogan said at the vigil, “While our hearts are broken our community is not…Aurora is still an All American City!”
I saw that personally as tears rolled down my face and strangers joined hands and hearts in unity. The prayer vigil ended with everyone signing ‘Amazing Grace’ as the survivors and families exited. There has been very few moments in my life when I’ve experienced that feeling of grief and unity at the same time.
People stayed well after the vigil was over and so did I. I joined hands with two young smiling faces and stood in a circle with hundreds as we prayed for peace and healing. After about 15 minutes someone yelled “group hug” and we ran to the middle and embraced each other with tears in our eyes.
I was proud to be there to support them. You will overcome this evil, Aurora. I have no doubt. Your people are strong and courageous and I will keep you in my heart as yours heals.