AURORA, Colo.-The scene in Petra Anderson's living room on Wednesday looked like something you'd see in a Starbucks: Several 20-somethings sat around with laptops, concentrating so hard on their conversations and to-do lists that they didn't even notice when I walked in.
Andrew Roblyer, an old high school friend of Petra's who is now her press manager, shooed the group out of the room. He explained that they were discussing social media promotion and a fundraising campaign to get the word out about Petra, an aspiring composer and violinist who graduated in May from the University of the Pacific, a prestigious music school in Stockton, Calif. Moments later, another young woman let herself in and headed to the kitchen with several bags of groceries.
On the couch sat Petra's mother, Kim, and her sister Chloe. Both Kim, a financial planner and former high school debate coach, and Chloe, a pretty 25-year-old filmmaker, appeared peaceful and confident-not what I expected considering only five days earlier Petra, 22, was hit four times by buckshot, including once in the face, when a gunman opened fire at packed theater in Aurora, Colo., during a midnight showing of the third Batman installment, The Dark Knight Rises.
Three shotgun pellets hit Petra's arm while another entered her nose, traveling through her brain and stopping at the back of her skull. Petra's story went viral when doctors announced she sustained almost no brain damage and is expected to make a full recovery because the pellet followed a channel of fluid running through her brain, missing vital areas of body control.
"[Some] press reports latched onto the word brain 'defect,'" said Chloe, "but everybody has a few passages like this in their brain. Doctors say the real miracle is the bullet traveled [along] the passage and stayed on one side of the brain. Normal physics says it should have ricocheted around [in her head]. But it didn't."
Petra's family reports she is recovering at an astonishing rate: She can speak, brush her teeth, shower, and on Wednesday she walked upstairs for the first time since the shooting. She also recognizes family and friends, retains her memory, and is cracking jokes. For instance, after being asked by hospital staff for the hundredth time, "What is your name?" she replied, "Why couldn't all those people just tell each other what my name is? Or look at my wrist [band]?"
Just six weeks before the shooting, the family received news that Kim has terminal cancer and was given six to 12 months to live. Sisters Petra and Chloe moved home, deciding to put their own careers on hold to care for their mom and enable their 19-year-old brother Robert to attend Metro State University in Denver. The children's father, Jack Anderson, has retired and lives out of state. Despite the medical condition of both mother and daughter, Kim holds onto hope: "I think the Lord gives you opportunities in all of your sufferings to grow, to serve, to become what you couldn't become without that [suffering]. We don't mean to give evil the last word."
As word spread about the family's needs, they received an outpouring of support. At the Medical Center of Aurora, where Petra was hospitalized, hospital staff kept the family fed while they waited for news, and police officers kept the press and "lookie-lous" at bay. Barbara Roberts, the director of caring ministries at the Anderson's church, Cherry Creek Presbyterian, rushed to the hospital by 5:30 a.m. the day of the shooting and remained there all day, offering comfort, organizing prayer vigils, and coordinating food, drivers, and hotel rooms for incoming friends and family. Friends set up a massive fundraising campaign called "Ready to Believe" to help with medical expenses for both Petra and Kim. The fund has already raised almost $200,000 (see video clip below).
"It's kind of odd," said Kim, "I prayed that my illness would help heal others. … Because of the double-whammy [of Kim's cancer and Petra's head injury], I'm able to help Petra get well and help with healing in the community. The relief fund will help Petra and me so we don't have to choose between my care and her care. But anything above and beyond will be given to the other victims. We have an abundance of resources so we can bless as many as possible."
On Monday, neither Kim nor Chloe watched the televised courtroom appearance of suspected shooter James Holmes. Both said they haven't given much thought to the shooter or the politics of gun control, instead choosing to focus on what is good, true, and beautiful (Philippians 4:8).
"The shooting was only the beginning," Chloe said. "I want to contribute to the ending so that it is inspiring and hopeful for others who may be in the same situation some day."
Chloe is already doing so: The day after the shooting, while her sister was recovering from brain surgery, Chloe went to see The Dark Night Rises at a different theater across town. She sat in the front row of theater No. 9-the same theater number as the one at the Aurora Century 16 where the shooting took place just hours earlier. Although a couple scenes made her jump more than usual because of real life events, she liked the movie and encourages others to see it. Chloe said the best part of the night happened when she ran into an estranged friend. Old grievances instantly forgiven, the friend asked if she were OK and offered to help. Another little piece of healing has begun.
"Midnight nightmare: An exciting night at the premiere of the latest Batman film turns into tragedy in Colorado" | by Sarah Padbury | July 20
"Chaos theories" | By Janie B. Cheaney | July 23
"A state of prayer: In the aftermath of Friday's shooting massacre, a Colorado community gathers to heal" | by Sarah Padbury | July 23
"Dark night" | by Cal Thomas | July 24
"Nightmare and narrow escapes: For victims of Colorado theater shooting, the early minutes of watching The Dark Knight Rises held both" | By Ruth Gibson | WORLD, Aug. 11 (posted July 27)
"John Stonestreet commentary: The Aurora shootings and the problem of evil" | The World and Everything in It | July 28