Funny business to aid Aurora theater shooting victims

“When it is so close to home I think it does rally the community" — Comedy works owner Wende Curtis

By BRANDON JOHANSSON, Staff Writer

AURORAIn the two months since a gunman opened fire on an Aurora theater, that ghastly massacre has become synonymous with Aurora.

Wende Curtis, who grew up in Aurora and owns the Comedy Works chain of clubs, said that may be the case, but it doesn’t have to be.

Comedy Works and others are focusing in a host of events in the near future to benefit the victims of the July 20 Aurora theater shooting

“If they do think that, I don’t think it’s a forever thing,” she said. “And wouldn’t it be nice if they would remember, as soon as possible, how Aurora rallied around its own, rallied around its own to help take care of its own?”

Curtis, a 1981 Hinkley High School graduate, is part of a group of Aurora natives and almost natives who last month launched Stand Up For Aurora, a nonprofit that hopes to use the theater shootings as the impetus to help those in need.

The group started working on Stand Up For Aurora around 2 p.m. July 20, just hours after the shootings and a time when many in the community were coming to grips with what happened.

John Ewing, Principal of Millennium Development Solutions and a 1979 Hinkley grad, said he donated a pint of blood that day and almost immediately started making phone calls to former classmates and friends who grew up with him in Aurora.

Ewing lives in Highlands Ranch now, but he said Aurora will always be his hometown. He was born at Fitzsimons Army Hospital and grew up near East Eighth Avenue and Frazier Street. One of his first jobs was at the mall next to the Century Aurora 16 theater where the shootings occurred.

And as he called those longtime friends from his neighborhood and from school, he realized they, too, wanted to do something to help.

The group incorporated as a non-profit group at the end of August and are planning several events for this fall.

On tap is a celebrity golf tournament to benefit the shooting victims Oct. 8 at CommonGround Golf Course. On Oct. 14 they are planning a dinner gala and silent auction at Wings Over the Rockies Museum.

Ewing said he is working now to line up speakers and guests for those events.

Curtis’ connections in the comedy world are also being put to use. A Ron White show early this month helped raise more than $58,000, she said. And donors can drop contributions into buckets designated from the theater victims at the Comedy Works clubs in Denver and Greenwood Village.

Cyndy Walker, a 1980 Hinkley grad and one of the organizers of Stand Up For Aurora, said classmates from her tenure at Hinkley remain close, and that connection made it easier to get people organized after the shootings.

“The knit was so tight in high school back then,” she said.

For everybody with a connection to Aurora, the shootings hit close to home, she said.

“Columbine was already close, and this hit even closer,” she said. “So there is a huge drive for alumni to support our community in any way we can.”

Curtis said the theater is just a short distance from the house she grew up in and where her mother still lives. And like Ewing, one of her first jobs was at the Aurora Mall, too.

“When it is so close to home I think it does rally the community,” she said.

Curtis said the shooting also hit home because one of the wounded victims, aspiring comedian Caleb Medley, was on the stage at her Greenwood Village club the night before the shootings. Medley had  performed at Comedy Works a few times and that night he took the stage as part of contest for new comedians.

“Everybody is touched, everybody,” she said.

Medley spent several weeks in a medically induced coma after being shot inside the theater. Last week, he was the last of the 70 victims to be released from an area hospital. And while Medley left the intensive care unit, he hasn’t gone home yet. Instead, he was moved to a long-term care facility to undergo further treatment.

Curtis said efforts to raise money for the victims are particularly important when considering just how extensive Medley’s injuries are and how expensive his treatment will be.

“All of the money that’s been raised right now probably wouldn’t pay for Caleb and all of his special needs for the rest of his life,” she said. “It’s overwhelming.”

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