Beau­ti­ful friend­ship framed by tragedies

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Nicki Jhab­vala The Den­ver Post

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.”

“Praise God”

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.”

Gabriel Scar­lett, The Den­ver Post

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.

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