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LI native close to Aurora's shock, pain

Tyriek Lyons, 29, formerly of Huntington, who now

Tyriek Lyons, 29, formerly of Huntington, who now lives in Aurora, Colo, nearly attended the midnight screening of the latest Batman movie at the Century 16 Theater, where a gunman killed 12 people and wounded dozens more. (July 21, 2012) Credit: Ryan Dearth

AURORA, Colo. -- Nestled in this suburban outpost outside Denver, residents enjoy the customary regimen of life in an outdoor state: climbing, fishing, hunting, skiing and biking.

Fear of their neighbors had not been part of their mindsets.

Now residents aren't sure whom to trust, said Tyriek Lyons, 29, a Huntington native who escaped to what he thought was tranquillity in Colorado as a teenager.

That image, he said, was shattered by the Friday morning shooting spree that took 12 lives, wounded at least 70 and robbed a nature-loving colony of its sense of ease.

"You know, you speak to people every day and then you have this guy with a bomb in his apartment. . . . This puts people on edge because you never know who you're dealing with.

"Nobody wants to feel unsafe and go to a theater and have to look over their shoulder."

Temisha Elliott, 39, a Denver resident who was raised in Queens Village, echoed that idea. "Normally, you will hear about these types of violent occurrences in larger cities such as New York, but not here," she said.

"I feel shock and disbelief that someone would kill innocent, unarmed people," said Elliott, who graduated from the now-closed Dominican Commercial High School in Jamaica and has lived in the Denver area since 2004. "This is an isolated incident where one individual snapped, and this was his way of terrorizing the masses."

The violence has staggered a city of more than 325,000 residents that is not used to being the center of national attention.

"This is something out of a television show," said Jessica Turner, 30, of Aurora. "Honestly, this makes me want to move from Colorado."

Bahia Wells, 20, of Aurora, was in a group that assembled for an impromptu vigil near the theater late Friday. "I'm praying for the victims and hope that the ones who are lost aren't forgotten," she said.

Aurora is a growing, diverse middle-class suburb, where people own homes on tree-lined streets with plenty of open space for outdoor activities. The crime rate is low and unemployment is just over 8 percent, close to the national average.

The theater where the shooting occurred is adjacent to Aurora Mall. Both are tucked in Aurora Town Center, one of the most popular destinations in the city. The theater opened in 1998 and quickly established itself as the arena's destination movie complex.

Elliott said she loves Aurora, which she calls a "safe place" where residents enjoy live jazz music in the park every Sunday. "It's just very serene," she said.

The shooting also shook those in neighboring Denver.

Jacquelyn Mosley, 44, a preschool teacher at Clayton Early Learning in Denver, has lived in Mississippi and California and said Aurora living is somewhere in between.

"It does make people aware that while you are in a safe environment, anything can happen," she said.

On Friday, Lyons had promised to take his pregnant girlfriend and her two daughters to the midnight showing of the "The Dark Knight Rises." At the last minute, he changed his mind.

"We can go another time," Lyons told his girlfriend, Heather McKinney, 28.

When the couple woke up Friday morning, the television images of death and mayhem at the movie complex hit them hard. "It was an act of God," said Lyons, who attended Walt Whitman High School. "I am glad I wasn't there. I don't know how I would have reacted."

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