Have you ever wondered what you'd do in a moment of crisis? How you'd respond to a terrorist on the plane, or a fire on the 13 floor, or a guy wearing a clown mask and waving a gun while you're standing in line at the bank?
Stephanie Davies knows. The 21-year-old faced such a moment in the most unlikely of places: a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., where she went to a late night screening of "The Dark Knight Rises" with her friend, Allie. About 20 minutes into the movie a gas canister flew by close to the two girls. Startled, Allie stood up and was shot in the neck by a gunman walking up the aisle.
Stephanie, 21, saw Allie collapse in the aisle, blood spurting from her neck. She crawled to her, pulled her out of the aisle and used her fingers to apply pressure to the wound as the gunman moved around the theater, firing into the screaming crowd. When the gunman again walked past the aisle where the two girls were on the floor, they played dead until he passed. Then she got a stranger to help her carry Allie out of the theater to an ambulance, her fingers never leaving her friend's wounded neck.
Heroic? Well, only if you consider saving her friend's life to be an act of heroism.
In other words, definitively heroic.
"Because of Stephanie's timely actions, I just had a conversation with Allie, and she is going to be fine," said President Barack Obama after meeting the two girls on Sunday at the University of Colorado Hospital.
And Stephanie wasn't the only hero in the theater that dark night in Aurora. Three young men – Jon Blunk, 26; Matt McQuinn, 27; and Alex Teves, 24 – used their own bodies to shield their respective girlfriends from the gunman's bullets. The three men were among the 12 who didn't come out of the theater alive.
"Jon just took a bullet for me," said his girlfriend, Jansen Young, who described how he threw her to the ground when the shooting started and pushed her further under the seats and out of the line of fire as it continued. She didn't know until she tried to get up and escape the theater that he had been shot and killed.
The stories were similar for McQuinn and Teves. On a painfully dark night in Aurora, these heroes provided an inspiring stream of light, illuminating an overwhelmingly grim tragedy with the brilliant rays of fidelity, courage and hope. The impulsively gallant actions of these young Americans, President Obama said, "represent what's best in us, and they assure us that out of this darkness a brighter day is going to come."
I'm in awe of people like Stephanie, Jon, Matt and Alex. I honestly don't know that I could be depended upon to do the things they reflexively did. My track record with small family crises – you know, the occasional deep cut or allergic reaction or asthmatic emergency – is not good. My children know that if there is blood or barfing or bad breathing, Mom is the one to go to for reasonable responses and quick thinking. Dad, on the other hand, will be there to cry and sympathize and wring his hands, as the situation requires.
Would it occur to me to plug a wound with my fingers and play dead while a murderer passed by? Would I think to push my wife to the ground and ram her under the seats for her own protection? Would I be brave enough to throw my body over the top of hers so I could take a bullet for her? God knows. But thank God for those who can find within themselves the ability to do what the situation demands, bringing heroic light to the darkest of dark, dark nights.
To read more by Joseph B. Walker, please go to www.josephbwalker.com.