She usually turns off her cell phone at night to prevent the “chirping” of incoming texts and emails from waking her. But Colleen Crane forgot to shut off her phone on Thursday, July 19, before going to bed at her family’s lake cottage in Fox Lake. She awoke at about 2 a.m. on Friday, July 20, to a phone call from her 27-year-old stepson, Carey Rottman, who told her that he was OK, but had been shot in his right thigh while at the midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” in an Aurora, Colo., theater.
“He was very calm and he said that he was OK, that he was shot and he was worried for Pierce’s safety and life. He feared Pierce, his friend, had passed and he then said ‘Please come to Denver right away,’” Crane told your Catholic Herald in a phone interview from Colorado on Monday.
Crane said she didn’t understand anything Carey said at first and asked him to explain it again, because the word, “shot” just kept replaying in her head.
“And he told me again – it almost seemed to be word for word what he had said the first time and then I just said, ‘OK, I love you and we’re going to be right there,’” said Crane, who talked to her husband, Dale Rottman, on the phone while scanning Google news for information. Finding nothing, she booked a 9 a.m. flight, the earliest available, to Colorado and got into the car to drive an hour and 15 minutes to their Mequon home. Crane said she fell apart as she listened to the radio and heard more details unfold about the theater where Catholic News Service reported a gunman killed 12 people and wounded 58. CNS reported that during an advisement hearing in court on Monday July 23, a judge ordered the accused shooter, 24-year-old James Holmes, be held without bond at the Arapahoe County Justice Center.
“It’s just a miracle,” said Crane, who works in the public relations office for the Capuchin Province of St. Joseph. “It’s just a miracle that he’s OK.”
According to Crane, Carey attended the showing with his friend, Pierce O’Farrill, who presided over his June 23 wedding to his wife, Jessica (Thron) Rottman, 26.
Carey and Pierce had been on the same side of the theater as the gunman, according to Crane, and got to the floor where they prayed together when the shooting started.
At one point, when the shooting stopped, Carey tried but couldn’t lift Pierce, Crane said, and explained that he ran out of the theater through the lobby. She also said Pierce said he’s grateful Carey left when he did, because the gunman returned.
“Pierce recalls that the gunman then came back in and his boot was right next to Pierce’s head,” she said, retelling the story as she heard it from her stepson and his friend, explaining that Pierce tried not to breathe as the gunman shot more rounds.
Crane said God was with Carey as he ran out into the parking lot on adrenaline, screaming for help.
“I mean you just know God was present in saving so many people and Carey – there were angels that came to help Carey,” she said, referring to 17-year-old Stephanie Rodriguez, who used her belt to apply a turniquet, her brother and two other teens who grabbed Carey, carried him and laid him down on grass to help him when so many others were scattering from him as he called for help.
“Her mom, I mean, just raised such a magnificent young lady and her mom said that she trained her children to when you see people need help, you step up and this girl did. So, that was amazing,” Crane said, explaining that Rodriguez also said another person flagged down the police car that took Carey to the hospital.
“Officer Ryan grabbed Carey and backed him into the backseat of the squad car, holding him tight and told him he was going to be OK,” said Crane, her voice shaking as she held back tears. She explained that they rolled down the window to stick Carey’s leg out on the way to the hospital. He was was the first person related to the theater shooting admitted at the Medical Center of Aurora.
Carey called Jessica from the back of the squad car to let her know he was alive and asked her to find out about Pierce – he contacted Jessica and told her he was OK so she could let Carey know.
“His main concern was the safety of his friend,” Crane said, adding that Carey was thankful his wife turned down the invitation to join Pierce and him for the movie. Jessica had attended the showing of Superman with her husband, a self-proclaimed “comic book geek,” and Pierce a few weeks earlier and didn’t want to go again, according to Crane.
“(Carey) fears that the person that was next to them…he’s not confident that that person survived,” Crane said.
Crane also said that Carey was triaged at the hospital as low priority because of the care he received from all of the “total strangers who just stepped up.” He was in and out of surgery by the time his stepmother and his father boarded their plane.
“Dale and I are still really shaky about this,” Crane said, “because we realize this could have gone in a totally different way and we’re, we feel very blessed and I think Carey’s care at the hospital has been just fantastic, but we think he’s doing so well because of everyone’s prayers back home.”
Carey – who received a phone call from Peyton Manning and visits from people including Colorado’s governor and six Denver Bronco players – and Jessica are showing incredible courage and spirit, according to Crane.
Though the former college football player lost about 30 to 50 percent of his quad muscle, doctors are confident Carey will heal to about 80 or 90 percent functionality compared to where he was, in about a year because of his level of fitness.
“(Carey) knows how lucky he is. He knows that he has been very blessed and he feels terrible for those whose outcomes are not as bright as his and for those who have been lost ….” Crane said of Carey, who had had two surgeries and was scheduled Tuesday night, as of presstime, for a skin graft procedure to take care of the exit wound on his leg. “He knows that this is up to him how this is going to affect him and he’s a kid who’s been in team sports all of his life and he never ducks a challenge.”
Crane and Dale also visited Pierce, whom she described as a “remarkable man” and “so faithful,” who’s recovering in another hospital. He had surgeries for several wounds, including to his arm and foot. Crane said the young men have been in touch by phone and texting from their hospital beds, and that Carey feels the two will be able to help each other process what happened when the events sink in, because they experienced it together.
Crane, who was raised Episcopalian but considers herself Franciscan since she’s been working with the Capuchins, said her faith has carried her each step of the way since Friday morning’s events rocked her to the core. She knows that Carey has great support from his network of friends and that prayers have been placed at Venerable Fr. Solanus Casey’s tomb by the Capuchins in Detroit.
Crane said the family’s hopeful that Carey will be released from the hospital Thursday or Friday, but that depends upon how Tuesday’s procedure goes. “He’s been ready for a long time,” Crane laughed.
As the family continues on this journey of healing together, Crane said they can’t help but think about all of the others who were affected by the shooting.
“We just know how blessed we are and our hearts go out to the families that have lost people,” Crane said. “There are other people who have such serious injuries and …we know that those people, that not everyone has had the same outcome as we have.”