AURORA, Colo. — Stephen Barton says he was bloodied from gunshot wounds as he staggered away from the hellish chaos inside a Colorado movie theater, but he didn't realize how badly he was hurt until he saw the shock in the faces of people who looked at him.
The 22-year-old from Southbury, Conn., and two friends were in the packed suburban Denver theater when a gunman opened fire just after midnight Friday. Twelve died and 58 were injured.
Speaking from his Aurora hospital bed Sunday, Barton said the shooting eventually stopped but the victims were still screaming. He remembers thinking, "This was the end for me, this will be the end of my life."
One of his friends was also injured but her condition wasn't immediately known. His other friend escaped unharmed.
The anecdotes from survivors such as Barton brought it all back for the survivors of the 1999 Columbine massacre.
Paralyzed in the Columbine shootings, Anne Marie Hochhalter, now 30, says friends still reach out to alert her to prepare for disturbing images on the news. She got a text message Friday morning when she woke up. Warning, it said. There was another one, this time close to home.
Hochhalter took a deep breath and turned on the TV.
"My heart just fell," Hochhalter said Sunday. "It brought back a lot — flashbacks from that day."
Columbine students who survived what in 1999 was the worst school massacre in U.S. history are reliving their own experiences. And they're banding together to try to help.
On Facebook and by phone, they are reaching out to people who witnessed Friday's early-morning slayings of 12 people at a movie theater in Aurora.
Young people were victims and witnesses in both shootings. The Columbine survivors are telling those at the movie theater that the road ahead of them won't be easy.
Hochhalter was headed to a prayer vigil for the victims Sunday night. Now a retail manager, Hochhalter said she can offer a little hope. "I would tell them that with time, it does get better. But it never goes away," she said.
Another piece of advice for survivors: Don't waste time trying to figure out what motivated the shooter or shooters.
"It's a waste of time, and it gives them exactly what they want," said Hochhalter, who was eating lunch as a 17-year-old junior when she was shot in the chest and spinal cord on April 20, 1999. Even as the years pass, she said, she's no closer to understanding why Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot and killed 11 classmates, a teacher, and then themselves.
"I don't think I'll ever understand," Hochhalter said.