Panic, blood inside Colorado theater -- and prayer circle outside

AURORA, Colo. — As Joel Wheelersberg tells it, he might have been the last person to get a ticket for the screening of the new Batman movie in Theater 8, the screening room next door to Theater 9, where a gunman opened fire early Friday.

His brother was visiting Colorado from South Lake Tahoe, Calif., and Wheelersberg pleaded with the ticket-seller when told the screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” was sold out. He got two tickets.

Like others in Theater 8, he heard the popping sounds coming from Theater 9 next door and assumed it was a special effect. “I thought it was part of the movie,” he said.

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Speaking Friday morning at Gateway High School, where witnesses were speaking with authorities, he told what has now become a familiar scene — the smoke, more shots, spreading panic. He later saw wounded theatergoers, some of them children, carried from the building. At one point he heard someone say, “We have a child! We have a child!”

The gunman killed 12 and wounded dozens and was later arrested by police.

Wheelersberg, 27, is a youth pastor with the Calvary Chapel in Aurora. After the multiplex was evacuated, he and friends and members of a college fellowship gathered on the sidewalk, threw their arms around each other and began to pray.

They prayed for the victims, for the police, asking that God grant them wisdom. They prayed for the civilians who pitched in to tend the wounded.

Two teenage girls walked up to the prayer circle. “They had lost their dad,” he said.

The prayer circle prayed for them too.

On Friday morning, Wheelersberg reflected on what had happened hours earlier. “What else can we do but pray?” he said.

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