Story from Jake Knabel, Concordia Sports Information
Very few people understand the horror that Concordia men's basketball player Andrew Bowers has seen. In a few minutes this summer he witnessed actions so dark they are almost unimaginable.
On July 20, a gunman opened fire inside an Aurora, Colo., movie theater in which Bowers, a Concordia men's basketball student-athlete, sat down with his girlfriend and two friends to watch the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises. The tragic shooting left 12 dead, 58 injured and many more with emotional scarring.
"It's definitely still always with me," Bowers said. "The biggest part is at night when you're trying to go to bed and you're super tired, but you replay that moment you were there over and over."
Bowers has returned to campus at Concordia for his sophomore year, glad to be immersed in the calm, peaceful atmosphere of Seward. Still, this school year is different as the events of the early-morning hours of that traumatic day stay with him.
"Loud noises definitely alarm me more," Bowers said. "I was at work and a box fell and I kind of jumped. It just got me thinking about it. It's everyday things you just take for granted. You lose your peace and security for a little bit."
The Aurora native, who grew up just a few-minutes drive from the scene of the shooting, vividly recalls the sequence that involved the gunman appearing in all black and throwing out gas canisters before spraying bullets into the crowd. Bowers and his friends, who sat in the third row of the theater near where the gunman entered, immediately ducked beneath seats as gunshots rang out.
The 6-foot-7 Bowers scraped his forehead in an effort to get down and protect his girlfriend with the shooter standing only 20 feet away. He remembers 20 to 25 shots being fired before the group made the decision to crawl to the opposite side of the gunman, and then ultimately make a run for it.
Bowers and his friends dashed for the exit and made it unscathed as the shooter set his sights on the quartet. Bowers' friend Jordan Murphy, a member of the Colorado University football team, trailed behind the group and narrowly scurried out of the theater as a bullet "whizzed" by his head, according to a USA Today article.
"I didn't see any bullets. It was kind of frantic in the place," Bowers said. "From what I saw there was drywall coming down from the side of the theater, so there were definitely bullets going to the side of it. I didn't actually see any of it, but it was chaotic. The smoke from the tear gas made it hard to see."
Bowers and his friends rushed to their vehicle in the parking lot and fled to his nearby home, where they stayed up all night reassuring loved ones and watching the news coverage of the tragedy. Friends lit up Bowers' phone with calls and messages related to the incident.
Later that morning after sleeping for only an hour-and-a-half, Bowers went on national TV and answered questions from Fox News' Shepard Smith. The rest of the nation looked on in shock as survivors told of the harrowing circumstances.
Bulldog head men's basketball coach Grant Schmidt was on vacation en route to Phoenix, Ariz., when he received emails about what had occurred from Bowers' former coaches at Parker Lutheran High School. Schmidt felt relieved that Bowers had come out of the theater with only a scrape.
"I didn't want to relive the moment with him," Schmidt said. "I didn't want to know details. I just wanted to know that he was OK and express to him how much we care about him and how happy we are that he was unharmed. In the midst of this tragedy and horrible incident, we could really see how God protected him."
Considering the deaths and injuries of several around him, Bowers also felt shielded that night.
"It's a moment you can't expect to ever be in," Bowers said. "When the shots were going off I definitely said a prayer that my friends and I would be safe.
"At that moment everything just seemed a lot calmer. Making decisions was a lot clearer. I felt like God was definitely with us and protecting us that night. He had to be because we were just so lucky. My faith has definitely gotten a lot stronger since then."
Bowers' growing faith is evident in the way that he speaks of the gunman. Although he admits to feeling a degree of anger when seeing the alleged shooter's photo on TV, Bowers understands the need to pray even for someone charged with committing several murders.
"As hard as it is, I just want to pray for him and his family because there is definitely something that's not right with him," Bowers said. "I think he just needs God's love more than anyone."
Through faith and the support of friends and family, Bowers continues to try to move past the terrifying images that remain in his memory. Bowers, who currently sports a sling that carries his right arm as a result of surgery to repair a torn labrum unrelated to the shooting, has been incredibly resilient through it all.
"I was concerned that this could really set him back," Schmidt said. "What came out of this was that I was very impressed with how Andrew handled it and how strong he stayed and how his faith lifted him."
Bowers plans to speak to his team through a devotion in the near future about what happened and how his faith has helped him persevere.
While the pain and shock of the shootings still prevent him from going back to any movie theaters, Bowers has tried to learn from the experience and grow stronger as a person.
"There's got to be a reason why God protected us that night," Bowers said. "We know now that there's purpose for us in our lives. We just have to be thankful for every day we get and hold on to the ones we love. Right as we got in the car we realized just how much we love each other and how grateful we were to have each other."