Aurora: Five Years Later, victims battle PTSD, focus on a new start

Editor's Note: Thursday, July 20 marks five years since the Aurora Theater Shooting.  As this milestone approaches, FOX31 has carefully chosen how to cover it without re-opening old wounds, and without focusing on (or even mentioning by name) the gunman. This is the second in our week-long series of reports.

AURORA, Colo. -- As a 16-year-old boy, Yousef Gharbi survived a bullet through the head on July 20, 2012.

"I was struck a little bit forward from my temple, and then I have an AR-15 bullet fragment in the back of my head," Gharbi told FOX 31.

Hard to get past something like that.  But five years after the Aurora theater shooting, he's still trying.

A lot has happened in those five years.  He met President Obama.  He moved to Arizona, and started a new life where relatively few people know what he went through.

"It`s not something I just go around telling people. I`m not sure why. I feel like part of it is - it`s not their business.  But the other part of it is, I don`t want the attention from that situation.  I kind of just want to go about my life as Yousef, you know, not an Aurora shooting survivor," he said.

In so many ways - like it or not - even five years later, victims of the shooting are still branded by that night.  Some of them, literally branded.

Marcus Weaver still has a scar on his arm from the shrapnel.

"I can still feel my arm being hit, I can still feel the numbness that I had for like a year," Weaver said.

He still replays that night in his mind nearly every day of his life.

"I could still seem the white of the gun, I can still hear the sounds," Weaver said.

He suffers from PTSD.  But a counselor he's been seeing for a few years now helps him cope.

"She got me to the point where I could handle the 'new Marcus,' because the 'old Marcus' was still in the theater," he said.

They 'new Marcus' is a dad and a motivational speaker.  He's also an author.  He just co-wrote a book, "Chosen to Forgive," partially about what happened in the theater that night.

"I did struggle with it obviously, but the thing that really got me through it is really faith, friends and family.  The most important part of that is faith, and part of that is forgiving folks who`ve done things to you," he said.

That means even awful things, like what happened in Aurora five years ago this week.  But if anything, but Yousef and Marcus hope the five year mark - while little more than a meaningless milestone - will serve as a reminder to take stock of what they didn't lose that night.

"I try to remind myself to be grateful for everything that I have.  Even when I find myself struggling, trying to get on my feet and get this whole adulating thing under control, I still like to remind myself, you know, 'Your life was almost taken.' So just be thankful that you`re here today," Gharbi said.

"I think it`s a way of showing that hey, we can move forward from this, and we will grow and we are Aurora Strong," Weaver said.

The 7/20 Memorial Foundation has planned a Community Candlelight Vigil and First Responder Procession to honor those lost on 7/20/2012.  Community members are asked to gather at 11:30 p.m. on 7/19/2017 on the east side of the Aurora Municipal Building, 15151 East Alameda Parkway. The main program begins at 12:15 a.m., and at 12:38 a.m. there will be a moment of silence to honor the lives lost. At 12:45 a.m., Aurora Police and first responders end their procession and arrive at the 7/20 Reflection Memorial.