AURORA, Colo. — An overwhelming tragedy was distilled into one human moment by the agony of a father who outlived his son.
Tom Sullivan's emotion Friday was captured in a photograph that ran on dozens of newspaper front pages and websites, giving people across the nation a glimpse of his grief as a pair of family members attempted to comfort him — and each other.
Tom Sullivan wasn't at the theater that night, but his son Alex was a big movie buff and had been anticipating the release of The Dark Knight Rises. The father suspected the worst.
He went to Gateway High School, which police had designated as a staging area for information on the shooting that killed 12 people and injured dozens of others, and carried a photo of Alex to show when he asked whether anyone had seen his son.
No one had any news. Not the authorities. Not the bystanders. He began to brace himself.
"Right now, what we're preparing for is that he is still in the movie theater," Tom Sullivan said. At that point, the victims who had been killed were still inside.
About an hour after the photo was taken, Tom Sullivan's anxiety regarding the situation boiled over. He held up his son's photo and raised his voice to the crowd, according to Barry Gutierrez, who snapped the photo for the Associated Press.
"Where's my son? Where's my son? Have you seen my son?" he said loudly, according to Gutierrez.
The photographer said the father's voice was deep, pained and intense.
"It rattled my bones," Gutierrez said. "I started to cry. I've cried many times thinking about it."
Alex Sullivan, turned 27 on Friday, and had gone to see the Batman movie as part of his birthday plans. He then would have celebrated his first wedding anniversary with his wife, Cassie, on Sunday.
Late Friday, Sullivan's family confirmed that police told them he was among those killed. A person who answered the phone at the Sullivan home on Saturday said the family was not prepared to make a statement.
"He was a very, very good young man," Sullivan's uncle, Joe Loewenguth, said Friday.
"He was loving, had a big heart."