Beautiful friendship framed by tragedies
The 6-foot, 230-pound University of Colorado fullback limped out of the locker room on a sore ankle after a thumping on the football field. Waiting for him was a boy half his size, a boy who shared a deeper pain that sprang from a horror that others couldn’t begin to imagine. ¶ Jordan Murphy and Reichen Posey shared something else, too: a love for football and a need to reach out to someone else who could understand.¶ So their story began Nov. 13, 2015, at Folsom Field.
“It was more like a football idol than ‘Hey, here’s a guy who went through the same thing’ at that point,” recalled Reichen’s father, Dave. “It was this massive guy who came walking up to him, supersoft voice but a huge dude who looked like he could eat you. I can just remember Reichen looking up at him and staring at him, almost speechless.”
Bullets and tragedy brought them together, but football and empathy are their bond. Both families have reluctantly become members of what Dave has called The Club No One Wants to Join.
Jordan, now 24, escaped the Aurora theater shooting on July 20, 2012 — five years ago Thursday. Twelve were killed and 70 injured.
Reichen, now 11, and his sister Amyla, 13, survived the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut on Dec. 14, 2012, that left 27 dead, including 20 children.
The Aurora and Sandy Hook shootings shocked a nation already too familiar with mass shootings, and they launched new efforts to reshape gun policy in Colorado and the United States. They continue to have emotional repercussions for those touched by them, even five years later.
“To see your family change in a day was really hard. I just wanted it back,” said Reichen’s mother, Carly. “I just wanted to fix it, and when I couldn’t fix it, that was hard because I’m a mom.”
The day after Sandy Hook, the Poseys moved to Colorado, where they’ve since found safety, friendship and hope, as well as an unbreakable bond with the Murphys.
Every few months since that first meeting in Boulder, the Poseys and Murphys have gathered to check in, to catch up and to pick up where they left off. Conversations are typically about life. Regular life. Often football.
“These guys here?” Carly said, looking over at Jordan and his mother, Laura, during a recent barbecue at the Poseys’ home in Parker. “They’re like family.”
Just before midnight July 19, 2012, Jordan and his friends settled in the fourth row of theater 9 in the Century Aurora 16 cineplex for the premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises.” About 15 minutes into the film, the theater’s exit door cracked opened and a gunman burst in and opened fire.
The symphony of chaos from the firearms and the crowd’s shrieks filled the room. When the gunman paused, Murphy trailed his friends as they crawled to the aisle and sprinted out. A bullet whizzed an inch over Jordan’s head before piercing the drywall.
Laura and her husband, Ken, awoke to two missed calls and a harrowing text message from Jordan still saved on Laura’s phone. There was a shooting. But he escaped and was OK.
“Praise God,” he wrote.
The tragedy marked the deadliest mass shooting in Colorado since Columbine in 1999.
Less than two weeks later, Jordan and the rest of the Colorado football team returned to his place of horror, by going to the movies ahead of preseason camp.
“That first one helped, just getting it out of the way,” Jordan said.
His greatest therapy resumed days later at camp.
“All I was doing all day was football,” he said. “It just helped to switch the subject instead of thinking about it every second of every day.”
“He shot my teacher … ”
The morning of Dec. 14, 2012, 6-yearold Reichen walked into school wideeyed in anticipation. It was a Friday, and they were going to make gingerbread houses and his mother was going to arrive later to help.
Then, “I just heard a bunch of loud noises,” Reichen said.
His teacher peeked out the classroom door and shut it quickly. “If we’re all together, we’ll be safe,” he remembers her telling students as she ushered them to the back of the room.
“Then a guy slammed the door opened and he shot my teacher twice and she fell to her knees,” Reichen said. “Then he shot a little kid.”
Reichen was in classroom 10 of Sandy Hook Elementary when the gunman killed Reichen’s first-grade teacher, Victoria Soto, and five of his classmates. When the gunman stopped to reload, Reichen ran out of the room, past the bodies of the school principal and psychologist in the hallway. He kept running — to a nearby firehouse that was locked, then to the house of someone who took him in for safety. All the way, he thought of his fourth-grade sister, Amyla, who had been hiding in a hallway closet as bullets sprayed the school.
“I thought she was dead or something,” Reichen said. “Then my mom came with my sister, and I just started crying harder. Just tears of joy and relief.”
The next day, the Poseys moved to Colorado where Reichen’s father was transferred for work and where many other members of The Club No One Wants to Join reside.
But for the 1,677 days since Dec. 14, 2012, the images and memories remain etched in Reichen’s mind in high-definition. Every detail, every color, every sound reminding him daily of an innocence lost.
His memory of the shooting is vivid and even helped investigators piece together the shooting timeline. But years after were lost time.
“It was just too much,” his father said. “Like, ‘I can’t bear the load of what’s going on and I can’t handle going to school. My head’s too full. At 6 years old, trying to figure out what that means — what does that mean for me if I walk outside? Is someone going to shoot me?’ ”
In that time, Reichen couldn’t escape the memory of the “murdering day,” as he described it. He had trouble leaving the house except to attend school at Frontier Elementary in Parker, where every day he had to return to his place of horror.
To help him finish first grade, Carly and Dave tag-teamed to ensure that one of them was there from the first bell to final bell. They knew the mornings of strength and fortitude would be overtaken by tears and fear. Reichen couldn’t sit or stand still, so many days were spent in the school’s occupational therapy room with his mom or dad, or outside with Maurice Carter, Frontier’s building engineer.
“He’s like my favorite person ever,” Reichen said. “I call him Mr. Maurice. We started playing football and just became good friends.”
When Reichen arrived at Frontier, Carter was prepped on his story and showed him the locked doors and all the escape routes. When Reichen had trouble sitting in class, Carter pulled him out to play football, typically three times a day.
“I’ve never talked to him about (Sandy Hook),” Carter said. “In the five years I’ve known him, we’ve never talked about it.”
That first year, Reichen wouldn’t go in the front yard of his new home. He wouldn’t go to a restaurant or the grocery store — the intercom would remind him of the one at Sandy Hook. He refused to brush his teeth and often wore his superhero costumes to regain some control in a world of confusion. During his counseling sessions, he talked while on a treadmill.
Before Sandy Hook, he and Amyla were inseparable. After the shooting, Amyla distanced herself. “Because she was like, ‘I almost lost him,’” Dave explained. “‘If I don’t like you anymore and you die, then I don’t have to lose you.’ That kind of changed after about two months.”
Amyla found comfort in baking, so her parents kept the kitchen stocked with cocoa, flour and butter. Reichen found comfort in the backyard with his mom or dad throwing a football, back and forth, back and forth until neither could throw any longer.
“Forty footballs in three years. That’s where that net came in,” Dave said, pointing to the steel lattice draped across the backyard fence.
“Understanding and comfort”
2012 used to be all-consuming and inescapable.
“Now, it’s just there in the background and certain things will make me think about it more,” Carly said. “But our lives are normal now.”
The aftermath of Sandy Hook and Aurora will never fade completely, and the families say they find solace in the good that has come of the tragedies. Friendships such as theirs are appreciated more now, they say. Life and its little moments are, too.
Reichen still has his hard ones, but they are fleeting. Like at the fireworks on July 4. This year, though, he didn’t beg to leave.
His mother still has her moments, too. She still doesn’t like to take pictures.
“Because I feel like those will be my last memories,” Carly said. “So I just live in the moment. For the longest time, I’d see pictures from before Sandy Hook and think that could have been all I had — was pictures.”
For the longest time, Laura Murphy felt compelled to stare at pictures.
“I’ve looked at pictures of those 12 victims hundreds of times because that was the face to everybody else,” she said. “I kept thinking, ‘What’s the face that sits next to you on that couch?’”
And then there’s that photo from 2013 that Dave saved. It’s of Reichen asleep in his parents’ room wearing an NFL Rams jersey and cradling one of the many footballs he’d toss in the backyard with his parents.
Reichen says football is his favorite sport and Jordan is a big reason. Not long after their first meeting at Folsom Field, Jordan attended one of Reichen’s flag football practices. And last fall, Jordan ran a clinic for athletes Reichen’s age at Lutheran High, where he is now the school’s strength and conditioning coach. That clinic was one of Reichen’s introductions to tackle football.
The Poseys know that when Reichen gets anxious — and it’s rare nowadays — a mention of Jordan calms him. In turn, Reichen is often Jordan’s inspiration.
“I didn’t have to go to a movie theater again if I didn’t want to,” Jordan said. “He had to go to his figurative movie theater every day. So I admire his courage.”
Their bond puts them in a select club, joined by only two who are happy to be included.
Membership is lifelong.
“They don’t talk about it so much,” Dave said. They just know. It’s just football and sports. There’s an understanding and comfort.”
Several years ago, an unusual friendship — fueled by a shared love of football and shared trauma — began between Jordan Murphy, left, a former University of Colorado fullback, and Reichen Posey, right. Murphy lived through the Aurora theater shooting, and Posey survived the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
Rebecca Ann Wingo
Alexander Jonathan Boik