A special education teacher from Lake Bluff was in the Colorado movie theater when the shooting began and helped evacuate someone from his group who was shot in the massacre.
Speaking from his parents’ home in Cary this morning, Steve Ostergaard said he was in the Denver area for a convention of Friends: The National Association of Young People Who Stutter, and was serving as chaperon for 11 people, aged 14 to 22, attending the “Batman” movie in the theater adjacent to the one where the shooting occurred.
About 10 minutes or so into the movie, “we heard a hissing sound and saw smoke. (It) sounded like multiple firecrackers,” Ostergaard said. “I thought it was kids acting stupid or part of a stunt.”
But moments later, an Ohio youth in his group said, “Oww, I’m hit,” Ostergaard recalled.
Ostergaard still thought it was a firecracker and, despite having broken his arm the day before the convention, pulled him out into the lobby, but then saw a wound about an inch in diameter on his arm. Soon, the young man was covered with blood, apparently struck by a bullet that went through the wall that separated the two screens.
Within moments, Ostergaard said he heard multiple gunshots, so he took the young man and hid behind the concession stand. Quickly deciding it would be easy for the gunman to find them there, Ostergaard spotted his group standing nearby and directed the group out of the theater. One older member of the group stayed with the injured young man until paramedics took over.
Ostergaard escorted the group in two cars back to the hotel where they were attending the convention. He said he made a quick decision to leave the scene because he knew the police would seal the area and did not want to get stuck in the building for hours.
“The kids were hysterical,” Ostergaard said. “The girls were crying and the boys were shaking.”
In spite of his broken arm and with help from group members texting or dialing, Ostergaard called the injured person’s parents and notified all the other parents that their children were safe. The police later interviewed Ostergaard and those in his group.
Ostergaard, who works as a special education teacher in Waukegan, said the full effects of what happened have not hit him yet. He said it was helpful to have two straight days with his group to talk about what they’d been through.
“It was like our own therapy session,” he said.
Ostergaard has a relative who stutters. His family has long been involved with the group and its first convention 15 years ago.
Lake Bluff man describes being inside Colorado theater, helping shooting victim
Steve Ostergaard. (WGN-TV / July 23, 2012)
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