An 'All-America City' Turns Inward in a Search for Answers That May Never Come - New York Times
AURORA, Colo. — Throughout this growing city, which tumbles from the edge of Denver out onto the plains and stretches across three Colorado counties, there are red, white and blue signs that declare “Aurora All-America City” — a proud reminder of a national civic award for demonstrating a deftness at dealing with municipal challenges.
Just days after a gunman opened fire on a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises,” killing 12 people and injuring 58, the signs took on a darker, more complicated meaning.
Aurora, Colorado’s third-largest city, has now joined the ranks of American communities that have endured a mass shooting. Like nearby Littleton, its immediate future will now be spent searching for an answer that will almost certainly never become fully clear.
“We’ve dealt with violence in this city before. But I’ve never seen people here shaken as much as after this,” said Adam Goldstein, a reporter for The Aurora Sentinel who grew up here.
“Everywhere you go, it’s kind of a silence, and I don’t think it has worn off,” he said.
Residents here have boasted that this city of more than 325,000 people is a place where one could raise a family away from the bustle, crime and hipness of Denver, while also experiencing the sort of diversity not often found in many communities outside larger cities. More than 50 percent of Aurora’s population is made up of Hispanics, African-Americans, Asians and other groups, according to census figures.
This is a place that seemingly merges America — where one can find extraordinary Korean barbecue as easily as a 24 Hour Fitness gym, a place where a mosque is part of the suburban landscape and where Spanish can be heard alongside the crisp military diction of the many veterans who have settled here.
The events of late last week have left the city staggered — from the apartment buildings near Colfax Avenue — where the suspect, James Holmes, lived — to the ranch homes on the city’s more affluent southeast side.
“It’s very difficult for people on the outside to understand what it’s like here,” said Luke Niforatos, 22, who was raised in Aurora and is a friend to several of those wounded in the shooting. “It feels unbelievable, the emotional response that has been bringing people together this week.”
Mayor Steve Hogan vowed that the city would bounce back.
“We’ve taken a blow today, but we will get back on our feet,” Mr. Hogan said. “We have to do our duty as parents and as civic officials and as caregivers.
“We’ve got to talk to our kids, let them know it’s an isolated incident.”
Aurora has grown by nearly 20 percent since 2000, according to census figures. It is home to Buckley Air Force Base, and some of the Rockies’ premier medical facilities are here.
And while Aurora is widely seen as safe, especially for its size, it has known its share of violence.
One of the most notorious crimes in Colorado unfolded here two decades ago, when a man killed four people at a local Chuck E. Cheese restaurant.
Three years ago, federal agents swarmed an Aurora apartment complex and arrested an Afghan shuttle bus driver, Najibullah Zazi, who eventually pleaded guilty to terrorism charges involving a plot to set off a bomb in New York City.
And in Mr. Holmes’s neighborhood, a mostly Hispanic enclave of dusty lots and brick apartment buildings, residents say the area is not as safe as it once was.
Luis Pasillas moved from Chicago to a building a block from Mr. Holmes’s apartment a year ago. He said that in recent weeks a dead body turned up in the neighborhood and there was a shooting nearby.
“Aurora used to be a nice place to live,” said Mr. Pasillas, 34. “In the last month, it’s getting unsafe.”
The son of State Representative Rhonda Fields, a Democrat who represents Aurora, was murdered here, along with his fiancée, in 2005, less than a week before he was set to testify in a case involving the killing of a friend.
Ms. Fields said she was particularly upset that the gunman at the movie theater had attacked the Aurora Town Center, a mall that has served as one of the city’s most popular gathering spots. The mall’s operators shut down the shopping center on Friday to allow law enforcement officials to conduct their investigation.
“This mall is where people go here. This is a family center. To know that someone is so calculating, it’s hard to understand why someone might do something like that,” she said.
By midday Saturday, however, the Aurora Town Center was again open for business and hummed with traffic. The only signs that something awful had happened here were the thicket of news trucks and the flitter of police lights under the marquee of the darkened theater in the distance.
John Eligon contributed reporting.