Aurora Shooting Survivor Recalls Terror on Eve of Anniversary
(AURORA, Colo.) -- Sitting in a dark movie theater watching The Dark Knight Rises with her boyfriend, Julia Vojtsek sensed something "weird" was going on.
"A guy was pretending to talk a cell phone call outside," she said. "I thought, 'just leave.'"
When the man came back in through the theater's emergency exit, all hell broke loose in Aurora, Colo.
First, it was the teargas.
"Somebody screamed out 'poison'," she said. "Almost immediately it filled the entire theater. Your lungs start burning. You feel like your eyes and nose are bleeding, even though they're not."
Then, the gunfire.
"He shoots a few times into the air, then just starts shooting toward the crowd," she said.
Vojtsek was sitting in the center of Theater 9, about six or seven rows up, with her boyfriend John Larimer.
She says Larimer's quick thinking is the only reason she is alive today. She is telling her story publicly for the first time since the shooting.
"His first instinct was to grab my head, cover me, tell me to get down. He was kind of guiding me where to go," she told ABC News.
"He looked up for a split second to kind of see what was going on and I think that's when he was shot. He was holding on to me tight, and I could feel when he relaxed," Vojtsek recounts. "I think that's when he died."
Vojtsek made it to safety with the help of two of Larimer's Navy friends who had met them at the theater that night.
Larimer was only 27 when he died. The youngest of five siblings, Larimer was a Navy petty officer third class stationed Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora.
"He was super excited" about seeing the new Batman movie, Vojtsek says. The couple even made a special trip to Wal-Mart before the midnight screening, buying Batman T-shirts along with a cape and mask they wore into the theater.
Eleven others were killed and 70 others were either wounded by gunfire or injured in the chaos of July 20, 2012.
For the first anniversary of the Aurora theater shooting, there were competing rallies Friday in Colorado.
At a state park near Aurora, the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns will be joined by shooting survivors and victims of gun violence. Organizers plan to read names of thousands of people killed by guns, ending with a moment of silence at 12:39 a.m.Saturday, the moment the shots first rang out in the Aurora theater.
A counter rally is planned at the same location by gun rights advocates to rally for the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
In court filings, former University of Colorado neuroscience student James Holmes has admitted to being the gunman who opened fire on the movie theater audience. His lawyers say he was having a "psychotic episode" at the time. He has entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.
Vojtsek says the last year has been a tremendous emotional struggle. She's been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. About 40 percent of her hearing is gone, she says, a result of her close proximity to loud gunfire.
Smells trigger vivid memories, everything from popcorn to the smell of the concrete on the theater floor. The sound of sirens, even the sight of a Wal-Mart, can send her into a tailspin.
She says, however, that she will never forget the love of her life who saved her in more ways than one.
"He was one in a billion to me and to a lot of people," Vojtsek says of Larimer. "I hope that his heroism and his bravery can be honored forever and remembered forever."
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio