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Published: Tuesday, 7/24/2012 - Updated: 3 years ago

Area man refuses to give in to fear after Colorado shooting

Shrapnel victim recalls chaos

the blade/amy e. voigtGage Hankins, 18, is embraced by his uncle John Massara after speaking to reporters in Forest, Ohio. the blade/amy e. voigtGage Hankins, 18, is embraced by his uncle John Massara after speaking to reporters in Forest, Ohio.
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FOREST, Ohio -- With his right arm wrapped tightly in a bandage from fingers to elbow, a Hardin County man wounded in the Colorado movie theater shootings described on Monday how he will not allow the event to shape his life.

"The shooter's intent was to harm people and make people fear him," said Gage Hankins, 18, now at home. "If you don't go back to the movies because of him, then he's won."

Mr. Hankins, his brother Jackson, 14, who was also at the theater, and their parents, Sarah and David Hankins, relayed their individual experiences during and after the Aurora, Colo., shootings at a news conference on Monday in their hometown of Forest.

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Mr. Hankins was one of 58 people injured; 12 were killed. James Holmes, 24, has been arrested for the shootings Friday.

Mr. Hankins was in a theater adjacent to the one in which the shootings occurred, watching The Dark Knight Rises, when he was wounded by flying debris that came through the adjoining wall.

He was taken to a hospital by emergency medical technicians. He underwent emergency surgery to remove four pieces of shrapnel from his right forearm.

Doctors expect him to make a full recovery. His brother was not injured.

The Hankins family was in Denver for the 15th Annual FRIENDS Convention, a conference for young people who stutter and their families.

The family returned home to Forest, which is about 70 miles south of Toledo, early Monday.

Mr. Hankins said he, Jackson, and 10 friends from the convention had watched about 20 minutes of the film when they heard a hissing sound and several bangs and began to see smoke.

"At the time we just thought it was part of the movie and there were special effects in the theater," Mr. Hankins said. "But a few seconds after it happened, I felt pressure on my arm and it got really numb."

He looked down and saw a hole in his arm and a great deal of blood but still did not understand what had happened.

He said a friend sized up the situation more quickly and ushered him out of the theater.

Sarah Hankins and her son Gage speak to reporters in Forest, Ohio, about their experiences in Aurora, Colo. Gage Hankins was wounded by shrapnel that came through the wall of an adjoining theater. Sarah Hankins and her son Gage speak to reporters in Forest, Ohio, about their experiences in Aurora, Colo. Gage Hankins was wounded by shrapnel that came through the wall of an adjoining theater.
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Because of his friend's fast thinking, Mr. Hankins was one of the first people to leave any of the theaters.

"It wasn't until we got out in the lobby that it finally hit me that this was bad, this was really bad," he said. "It was all just so overwhelming that I dropped to my knees. And that's when I started to see and hear the people screaming and running out of all the theaters."

After exiting the lobby, he sat outside the theater while a stranger applied pressure to his wound. He said medical technicians kept attempting to put him in an ambulance, but he insisted they help those who were more seriously wounded first.

"For me it was just an arm, but there were people that got shot in the face, in the side, in the neck," he said.

About an hour after the shooting, Mr. Hankins was taken to the Swedish Medical Center, where he underwent surgery and was briefed on the attack.

His younger brother had stayed behind with the remainder of their friends.

"I thought he was just going to get cleaned up and he was going to be fine," Jackson said. "I didn't know what he was hit with."

The group quickly realized something was seriously wrong, however, and they left the theater shortly afterward.

The younger sibling said the rest of their theater did not move as swiftly. "[When we left] everyone else in the theater just stood there and stared at us as if we were doing something wrong," he said.

Their hasty exit enabled them to leave the area and return to their hotel before authorities shut the scene down and ushered everyone involved to nearby Gateway High School.

The brothers' parents, who were alerted to the tragedy by a phone call, recalled searching for Mr. Hankins in a Level I Trauma hospital and being relieved he was not there.

"The moment that I was able to see him changed me," his mom said, referring to when the family found the victim at the second hospital they tried. "He was so strong and totally set the tone for the rest of us."

Mr. Hankins said much of his strength came from the support he received from FRIENDS and other conference attendees.

The organization asked him to address the convention for Saturday's closing remarks.

"As I was talking and explaining how I felt, I was looking around the room and saw the love and compassion and tears, and some of the people I didn't really know," he said. "FRIENDS is one big family and we're so close even though we only see each other three or four days a year."

When asked how they felt about the possibility of the death penalty for the suspect, Mrs. Hankins said she does not believe in capital punishment.

David Hankins said the shooter "needs help."

Gage Hankins said he harbors neither regrets about going to see the film nor anger toward Mr. Holmes.

"Not once was I angry toward the shooter," he said. "I just want people to pray for him so they can help him see what he did was wrong."

Although he refuses to stop going to movie theaters, he said the experience will have a long-lasting effect on him in a different way.

"I'm going to get a tattoo," he said. "It's going to be the new Batman symbol with a white ribbon inside of it. Above it, I'll have the date '7/20/12' and below it will have the saying 'Remember the fallen.' "

Contact Mel Flanagan at: mflanagan@theblade.com or 419-724-6087.

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