AURORA, Colo. — Five years after the Aurora theater shooting, the stories of those killed on July 20, 2012 — shared by family and friends — paint pictures of full lives that ended too soon.
Almost all of the 12 victims were young — including a 6-year-old girl who had just learned to swim — with so much life ahead of them.
Below, we honor their memories with the words their friends and family members shared in the days after the shooting.
Jonathan Blunk, 26
Blunk served five years in the U.S. Navy, including service aboard a vessel in San Diego. Her husband said if he died, he wanted it to happen in battle, his estranged wife Chantel Blunk told CNN.
She said she will remember Jonathan’s humor, spontaneity and attention to family.
“We love him and he is going to be remembered as a hero,” Chantel Blunk said.
He was survived by a 4-year-old daughter and son, 2.
A.J. Boik, 18
Boik, who had just graduated from Gateway High School and lived in Aurora, was at the theater with his girlfriend and a friend.
“AJ was an awesome kid and a truly Inspirational teammate,” one individual wrote on a memorial Facebook page. “You cant find someone with a brighter smile and more positive outlook on life.”
His uncle, John Hoover, gave the eulogy at Boik’s funeral service. “He is still with us, and I know that I can feel his spirit floating in the breeze,” Hoover said.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Jesse Childress, 29
Childress, an Air Force reservist, was a cybersystems operator on active duty with the 310th Force Support Squadron at Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado. He was from Thornton, Colorado.
“Jesse was an invaluable part of the 310th family,” said Lt. Col. Pat Walsh. “He literally touched everyone in the wing — over 1,000 people.”
Three of Childress’ Air Force colleagues traveled from Buckley to honor Childress at a memorial near the theater.
“He was a huge part of our unit, and this is a terrible loss. The person that did this was an incredible coward,” Air Force Chief Master Sergeant Schwald told the Denver Post.
Gordon Cowden, 51
Cowden took his two teenage children to the theater. His children escaped unharmed, according to California’s Ventura County Star.
A family spokesman described Cowden as a “loving father, outdoorsman and small business owner,” according to the Star.
“Cowden was a true Texas gentleman that loved life and his family. A quick-witted world traveler with a keen sense of humor, he will be remembered for his devotion to his children and for always trying his best to do the right thing, no matter the obstacle,” the spokesman said.
Jessica Ghawi, 24
Aspiring sports reporter Ghawi narrowly avoided another shooting incident in Toronto just a month before the Aurora shooting — an incident that prompted her to reflect on life on her blog.
The Toronto shooting at the Eaton Centre left one person dead and seven injured.
“I was shown how fragile life was on Saturday. I saw the terror on bystanders’ faces. I saw the victims of a senseless crime. I saw lives change,” she wrote at the time. “I was reminded that we don’t know when or where our time on Earth will end. When or where we will breathe our last breath.”
Ghawi, who also went by the name Jessica Redfield, grew up in Texas and interned at Ticket 760, a sports radio station in San Antonio, before moving to Denver to try to break into the television market there. She was a sports intern at FOX31 Denver.
Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class John Thomas Larimer, 27
Like his father and grandfather, Larimer chose to join the Navy. He was serving at his first post, said his father, Scott Larimer.
“I am incredibly saddened by the loss of Petty Officer John Larimer — he was an outstanding shipmate,” said Cmdr. Jeffrey Jakuboski, Larimer’s commanding officer. “A valued member of our Navy team, he will be missed by all who knew him.”
His unit, part of U.S. Fleet Cyber Command/U.S. 10th Fleet, was stationed at Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado. Larimer had been in the service about one year.
Matt McQuinn, 27
McQuinn died trying to provide cover for his girlfriend, Samantha Yowler, during the shooting at the theater.
Yowler and her brother Nick, who also was trying to protect her from the bullets, both survived.
McQuinn and Samantha Yowler grew up in the Miami Valley region of Ohio, according to WKEF. The two had been dating for a couple of years. The couple met at a Springfield, Ohio, Target store and moved to Denver in December 2011, the Dayton Daily News reported.
“I know he’s a hero,” the victim’s stepfather, David Jackson told WHIO. “He and Sam were very much in love and planning their life together. I am sure they were thinking very seriously of getting married soon.”
Micayla Medek, 23
Medek, known as Cayla to her friends, was “very spiritual and close to God,” cousin Anita Busch told CNN. Her family is tight-knit, Busch said.
Medek’s Facebook page described her as a student of general studies at the Community College of Aurora with plans to graduate in 2015.
She lived in Westminster, Colorado, but was from Aurora, Busch said. “I’m a simple independent girl who’s just trying to get her life together while still having fun,” Medek wrote on her Facebook page.
Veronica Moser-Sullivan, 6
Described as a “vibrant little girl,” Veronica had just learned to swim and was “excited about life,” her great-aunt said.
Veronica’s mother, Ashley Moser, was left paralyzed from injuries she sustained in the shooting.
Veronica was an only child.
Alex Sullivan, 27
Alex Sullivan went to the movie to celebrate his birthday, two days before the first anniversary of his marriage to his wife, Cassie.
“Oh man one hour till the movie and its going to be the best BIRTHDAY ever,” he tweeted.
“The Sullivan family lost a cherished member of their family,” a representative for the family said in a statement. “Alex was smart, funny, and above all loved dearly by his friends and family.”
His uncle, Jim Loewenguth, said Sullivan was an employee at the theater, but was off that night. Sullivan was “full of joy” and “never had a bad chip on his shoulder,” he said.
Alexander C. Teves, 24
A native of Phoenix, Arizona, Teves was a recent graduate of the University of Denver.
“He was a wonderful nephew,” said his aunt Barbara Slivinske.
He graduated in June 2012 with a master’s degree in counseling psychology within the Morgridge College of Education.
Rebecca Wingo, 32
Wingo joined the Air Force after high school, became fluent in Mandarin Chinese and served as a translator, according to WFAA.
She had “the sweetest smile you’ve ever seen,” said friend Hal Wallace. “She got prettier as she grew older.”
Wingo moved to Colorado with her two young girls, and wrote about how the youngest was excited to start kindergarten.
Said Wallace: “In the blink of an eye something happens and completely changes everyone’s life — forever.”