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Trauma of Aurora lingers for survivors, relatives

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Published:   |   Updated: July 20, 2013 at 09:13 AM

The day after the man in a gas mask opened fire in a suburban Denver movie theater, retired Largo telephone company employee David Garrett had some words of caution for his son, whose children survived the massacre.

Watch the kids' behavior, Garrett told his son, Duane Garrett.

A dozen people died in Theater 9 at the Century Aurora movie theater one year ago today. Dozens more were wounded. And three generations of the Garrett family are still suffering.

David Garrett's grandchildren, Joshua and Jacob Garrett, 14 and 12 at the time, were among the hundreds who went to see the midnight showing of "Dark Knight Rises."

Authorities say James Eagan Holmes, then 24, was armed with three weapons, including a semi-automatic rifle, a shotgun and a handgun. Holmes, whose lawyers have since said was in the midst of a psychotic episode, went into the movie theater and began shooting.

"Joshua grabbed his brother, threw him down and laid on him," says Garrett, 70. "His best friend was older. He grabbed him by the ankle, hollered at him to stay down."

Garrett says the bullets "whizzed by Joshua's head as he was going down. They hit a wall behind him."

After the shooting, Garrett said, he told his son, Duane, to closely monitor the boys.

"I told them what to look for," says Garrett. "Shutting down. Mood swings. Sudden outbursts."

Garrett says he was warning his son about the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

"I know," says Garrett. "I have PTSD, too."

That his grandsons were nearly killed in a movie theater has brought back nightmares and bad memories, says Garrett.

On Feb. 16, 1964, he was an Army sergeant in Saigon and had gone to see a movie at the Capital Kinh Do Theater. Halfway through "The List of Adrian Messenger," a movie about a guy who was blown up in an airplane, Garrett stepped out for a beer. While he was gone, a suicide bomber blew himself up, killing three Americans and wounding 50.

"They were my buddies," Garrett says of the dead and wounded. "This is why the theater thing bothers me. My grandchildren went through about the same thing."

Garrett said his son, after seeing his children exhibiting signs of PTSD, got them into therapy.

Joshua Garrett hasn't talked about what happened, says Garrett.

"Jacob didn't want to go see that movie," he says. "Joshua talked him into going. It kind of hurt him because it was the worst day of their life."

Shortly after the theater massacre, Joshua Garrett wrote about what happened on his Facebook page.

"Most horrible thing in my whole life!," he posted, along with a picture of the ticket from Theater 9 at the Century Aurora, where the Batman movie was playing. "Baddest move I ever made and I brought my little bro with me too!"

Jacob Garrett, on the other hand, discovered poetry, said Garrett, as a way to cope with the suppressed feelings.

"It gets my feelings out," Jacob Garrett says in a recent interview with a Denver television station. "It's all inside me and I just need to get it out."

The poetry, says Garrett, was helping his younger grandson. But going on television seemed to be more than he could handle.

"Jacob is having a lot of problems right now," says Garrett. "He's in a shutdown mode and they took him to counseling" Wednesday night.

Garrett says his son is having problems of his own.

"My son was in shock too," says Garrett. "He dropped them off. Had to pick them up. It was traumatic."

Duane Garrett, who declined to talk about what happened, "is trying to keep his head above water," Garrett said.

So is David Garrett.

"I can't sleep," he says. "I am lucky if I get three hours a night."

haltman@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7629

@haltman

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