At the spot where the public grieved for the victims of the Aurora movie theater attack, today there stands a row of dead trees.
The surrounding vacant lot — which in the weeks after the attack filled with flowers and candles and stuffed toys — is again empty and weed-covered. Across the street, abandoned shopping carts lie in a drainage ditch.
On the second anniversary of the attack that killed 12 and wounded dozens more — which falls on Sunday this year — there is no place devoted solely to the memory of those lost in one of the worst mass shootings in the country's history.
And that has become an open wound for some of the victims' family members.
"To not be able to move forward on a memorial garden or something for our families is not OK," said Sandy Phillips, whose daughter, Jessica Ghawi, was killed in the attack.
Aurora will mark the anniversary of the attack this year in more subdued fashion. Last year, the makeshift memorial — in the vacant lot on Sable Boulevard, across from the Century Aurora theater — re-emerged for a moonlit vigil that ended with a procession of police cars driving by. Officials gave speeches. Churches held their own remembrances, and several of those affected by the attack rallied against gun violence.
This year, the Aurora Strong Resilience Center — a facility opened just prior to the attack's first anniversary — will hold a "Day of Remembrance." Events include tai chi in the morning, yoga classes, drum circles, paper crane-making and other art activities.
"I ask every citizen of Aurora to stop for just a moment sometime on Sunday and offer a word of prayer for the victims, and thoughts of hope for a better tomorrow for all," Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan wrote in a Facebook message this week.
Phillips said she appreciates the city's gestures but finds them inadequate tributes to the lives lost and the lives irrevocably altered two years ago. In the absence of a permanent memorial, she worries the victims of the attack will slip from the public's memory.
Already, the movie theater where the attack took place has been remodeled without a plaque to the victims, she noted. In the criminal case against the gunman, it has been at least nine months since a victim's name was spoken in court.
After great tragedies, memorials can often take years to build. The National September 11 Memorial and Museum opened a decade after the terror attack. The memorial to the victims of the Columbine High School tragedy took eight years to complete.
Alan Cram, a former Columbine High School teacher who is now president of the Columbine Memorial Foundation, said creating consensus on a memorial design was a difficult, but important, process.
"The community really felt there should be a place for healing," he said, "not so much memorializing the event."
In an interview, Hogan said Aurora will move forward with a permanent memorial — when the time is right.
"We continue to talk with and work with the families of the victims and will do so as long as we need to," Hogan said. "This is something that we really want to be sensitive to their needs and their concerns. We're just not going to move any faster than we need to."
Kim Stuart, the city's director of communications, said in a statement that a group has met several times to begin the discussions about a permanent memorial.
Caren Teves, whose son, Alex, was killed in the theater attack, said she participated in some initial discussions about a permanent memorial but would like planning to move faster.
"I'm hoping, I'm truly hoping, in the future that this will come to fruition," she said. "And I'm hoping it's something that comes to fruition sooner rather than later."
In the meantime, families of the theater shooting victims are organizing their own memorials. In August, Phillips will hold an annual sports-equipment drive in her daughter's honor, to benefit the needy.
And on Sunday, the Teves family is joining in a beer festival to benefit the Alex Teves Foundation. The event, called "A Night to Remember," will feature 20 breweries, food trucks and live music.
It is dedicated to the memory of all of the theater victims: Jonathan Blunk, A.J. Boik, Jesse Childress, Gordon Cowden, Jessica Ghawi, John Larimer, Matt McQuinn, Micayla Medek, Veronica Moser-Sullivan, Alex Sullivan, Alex Teves and Rebecca Wingo.
John Ingold: 303-954-1068, email@example.com or twitter.com/johningold
Staff writer Carlos Illescas contributed to this report.
Aurora theater shooting anniversary events
Aurora Rise will host a fundraiser for victims from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday at Empire Beauty School, located at 16800 E. Mississippi Ave. in Aurora. Event includes $5 haircuts, raffles, food.
The Potter's House of Denver is planting trees representing those slain in the shooting. "Hope Park" will officially open at 9 a.m. Sunday at The Potter's House, 9495 E. Florida Ave., Denver.