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FOREST — Each summer Dave Hankins and his family attend the Friends Convention sponsored by the National Organization for Young People Who Stutter.
Through the organization, his son Gage has met other people with stuttering issues and made friendship throughout the county. The convention takes place at various locations across the U.S., but this year’s trip will no doubt be one Gage and his family will never forget.
The Riverdale 2012 graduate was one of 50 people injured when a gunman opened fire in a crowded theater in Aurora, Colorado. At least 12 people were killed in the attack.
This is the eighth year the Hankins family has attended the convention, said Dave. From the first time they went, he said, they knew this was how they wanted to spend their annual vacations.
A few weeks ago, one of Gage’s friends through the organization contacted him to let him know he had purchased tickets for the premier showing of the new Batman movie with would be showing during the convention.
As the group left the hotel, Gage, 18, and his 14-year-old brother, Jackson, were among the group of 12 from the Friends convention to drive to the theater. With six in each of two cars, the group arrived for the showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” at 10:30, said Dave.
The group consisted of young people from Iowa, Chicago, New Jersey and Forest.
“They are all friends who hang out together when we are at the convention,” said Dave.
The late night premier of the movie had begun and about 20 minutes into the show during the first loud gunfire on the screen, said Dave, Gage told him he noticed smoke and heard a ‘pop’.
“He felt his arm getting warm and realized he had been shot,” said Dave. “One of the kids said, ‘Holy crap! Let’s get the hell out of here’ and they ran outside.”
A stranger saw Gage had been shot in the forearm and applied pressure to the wound until medics arrived.
“Gage could see his wound was not life-threatening,” said his dad, “so he told the medics, ‘I’m fine. You need to care for other people.’”
There was plenty for the first responders to do. The gunman had been at a Batman showing in theater nine and Gage was with his group in theater eight, said Dave. The shrapnel went through the wall and hit Gage in the forearm. It traveled up his right arm, but broke no bones and doesn’t appear to have done any permanent damage.
“The wound is about the size of a 50-cent piece,” said Dave. “As soon as they took the shrapnel out, the police got it for evidence … Gage is doing fine. He can move his hand and should be released (this afternoon).”
While the theater had turned into a scene from a movie, Dave and his wife, Sarah learned of the shooting from one of the friends who went to the showing with Gage. But the message was hard to follow because the boy was excited and the battery on his phone was doing dead, said Dave.
“Sarah was frantic with worry,” he said. “We didn’t know where they had taken Gage or how serious he was.”
With no car to go to the hospital, the family’s friend came to their aid and made sure they found Gage.
“This group is truly a family,” he said.
When they found their son, Dave and Sarah were relieved to see him in good spirits.
“He was in a lot of pain,” said Dave. “But he is a very lucky boy.”
The family doesn’t know if anyone else in Gage’s theater was struck by shrapnel.
Gage doesn’t have any immediate plans to see the rest of “The Dark Knight Rises” and is apprehensive about going to any theaters for a while, said his father. The family is planning to attend the 2013 Friends Convention in Nashville.
“This has been a weird experience,” said Dave, “but we are going to survive it.”
By DAN ROBINSON
Times staff writer