Century 16 Theater: A Story of Mayhem and Horror

The attendance at my OSU seminar about the life of Chub Anderson is good and everyone seems very interested in the project.

And now a story sure to give you nightmares……………

Welcome back. The dictionary defines horror as shock, revulsion and dread and the witnesses who were called to the stand described the Century 16 Theater tragedy in just those terms. During the opening week of testimony which I just attended, my preassigned seat was approximately twelve feet directly behind the defendant. At the request of the victims his name will never be mentioned in this story. They believe that the focus of people’s attention should not be on the shooter but on the overwhelming heartbreak that he has caused.

With that I’ll take you back to the scene of the catastrophe that occurred during the premiere of the Dark Night Rises which I described last week. Its three o’clock in the morning. The midnight showing had a full house when the admitted shooter began his rampage and the shooting didn’t stop until he had emptied his guns. Shortly thereafter he was arrested outside the theater.

According to the lead investigative officer for the Aurora Police Department the seventy people who were wounded had all been taken to one of several hospitals in the area and the survivors were being interviewed at a local high school. The building had been secured with police officers at every entrance and at 3 a.m. only the dead were still inside the theater.

It was the investigator’s first time to see the crime scene and as he retraced the shooter’s path from the exit door near the screen he found an assault rifle on the floor near a plastic clip that the killer used to prop open the exit door. The odor of tear gas and gun powder still filled the air as the investigator continued exploring inside the theater. As he walked, he slipped on what he discovered was blood covering the floor. There was blood everywhere, on the hand rails, the walls and the seats and it was the most gruesome scene he had ever witnessed in over twenty-five years in law enforcement. Many in the courtroom wept when at the D.A.’s request, the investigator went on to explain what had disturbed him the most.

The crowd in the theater had been mostly young teenagers and pre-teens and when the shooting started many of them called out on their cell phones. As panic broke out the phones were dropped throughout the theater and they were still on. When the investigator arrived the news media had gotten ahold of the story and were broadcasting live from the scene. It was mayhem. Standing just inside the theater door with only the dead, what would give him nightmares were the dozens of cell phones ringing. The friends and families of the victims were frantically calling hoping their loved ones weren’t among the dead and would pick up the phone.

It was none too soon for me when I started going south on US Highway 25 out of Denver. The route is a treat for the eye as the snow packed peaks of the Rockies go by. Crossing into New Mexico, the first town you come to is Raton which is the highest point on the railway system. It’s also the first exit that that will take me to Cimarron and Philmont. I’ve covered the Boy Scout ranch before and the vision of Waite Phillips’ that made the ranch a reality. While I was on the road word reached me that Waite’s only son, “Chope” Phillips died last Sunday. I wrote about Chope several years ago right after I met him. This story, along with stories about the St. James Hotel and the Express UUBar Ranch can be found online at www.originalbuffalodale.com  This spot is a favorite layover for me and after a week of horrific testimony the beauty of the surroundings was just what I needed to recharge my batteries.

After resting up at the UUBar I headed east out of Cimarron where the old Santa Fe Trail is still in use. First used by American Indians, the trail offers awesome views of beautiful grasslands as well. The Santa Fe Trail crosses another famous trail, Governor George Nigh’s southwest passage highway which goes straight east through the Oklahoma panhandle where miles of the majestic plains roll by like tumbleweeds. But that’s another story for another day.

This weekend you will get the chance to explore some wonderful scenery and history right here at home when Elder Care’s big fundraiser, The Good, The Bad & The Barbeque takes place at the Mullendore Cross Bell Ranch. For ticket information call Elder Care at (918) 336-8500.

If you are interested in local history you might also want to check out a short course I am offering through the OSU extension program in Bartlesville. The course will focus on my book about the life of Damon “Chub” Anderson in three two hour sessions held at Arvest’s eastside branch.. Contact Sally Banard for enrollment at (918) 812-3807.

So if I don’t run into you at the ranch, till next time I’ll see ya down the road……