AURORA, Colo. – As the names of the 12 victims of the mass shooting at a Colorado movie theater were released Saturday, friends and family flocked to social media, traditional media outlets and vigils to speak out about their loved ones who perished. Though the victims came from all walks of life, many of their relatives expressed the same sentiment: the desire to share and reflect on the wonderful lives the victims led, not the accused gunman who cut short their lives.
Here are their stories, in alphabetical order:
Jonathan Blunk, 26: Blunk was a certified firefighter, emergency medical technician and a veteran of the United States Navy who served three tours in the Persian Gulf and North Arabian Sea between 2004 and 2009. He also was a father of two small children.
Blunk would have wanted to die a hero, according to friends and family, and his friend Jansen Young, who was with him at the theater that night, says he was.
When shots rang out, Blunk threw himself in front of Young and saved her life, Young told the NBC's "Today" show.
His estranged wife, Chantel Blunk, told NBC News she was not surprised to hear of Blunk's reported actions that night.
“He always talked about if he were going to die, he wanted to die a hero,” she said,
Blunk's close friend James Gill agreed.
"That's something he would do," Gill told The Associated Press. "If he was going to choose a way to die, that's how he wanted to go -- defending someone from a (person) like that."
Blunk, a 2004 graduate of Reno's Hug High School in Nevada, most recently worked at a hardware store but wanted to re-enlist in the Navy. He dreamed of becoming a Navy Seal.
In addition to his estranged wife, he leaves behind a 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son.
Alexander "A.J." Boik, 18: An estimated 500 people gathered at Gateway High School Saturday night to remember Boik, a recent graduate and talented artist who was headed to the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design in the fall.
"He was a very big part of this community,'' Tami Avery, 41, whose son played sports with Boik, told Reuters. "He will be dearly missed."
Boik's family, in a statement obtained by The Associated Press, said Boik was adored by all who knew him.They said Boik was dating a "beautiful young lady" who was with him at the theater but survived.
A friend, Jordan Crofter, said Boik and his girlfriend were the "perfect couple," and people expected them to get married.
"If he were still here, he'd try to make everyone have a positive outlook of the situation and not allow it to affect their outlook of life," Crofter said.
Jesse Childress, 29: An Air Force cyber-systems operator based at Buckley Air Force Base, Childress was described by a co-worker as "always positive and laughing."
"Really just an amazing person, and I am so lucky to have been his friend," Ashley Wassinger told The Associated Press.
Air Force Capt. Andrew Williams described Childress as knowledgeable, experienced and respectful. "We're going to miss him incredibly," he said.
Another co-worker, Tech Sgt. Alejandro Sanchez, told the The Associated Press that Childress was his good friend and they were on a bowling team together.
"He would help anyone and always was great for our Air Force unit," he said.
Gordon Cowden, 51: Cowden lived in Aurora, but his family described him as a "true Texas gentleman" in a statement. At 51, he is the oldest massacre victim. He was at the movie with his two teenage children, who escaped the shooting unharmed.
"A quick-witted world traveler with a keen sense of humor, he will be remembered for his devotion to his children and for always trying his best to do the right thing, no matter the obstacle," his family said.
His family declined to be interviewed in their request for privacy, but expressed appreciation for words of concern offered in the wake of the shooting.
"Our hearts go out to everyone that has been harmed by this senseless tragedy," they said.
Jessica Ghawi, 24: An aspiring sports journalist, Ghawi was one of the first victims identified.
Ghawi, who went by the name Jessica Redfield in her on-air role, had narrowly escaped a June 2 shooting at a Toronto shopping mall that left one person dead and four others injured. Ghawi wrote a now-chilling post on her blog about how she left that scene just moments before that shooting took place.
“This empty, almost sickening feeling won’t go away,” she wrote. “I noticed this feeling when I was in the Eaton Center in Toronto just seconds before someone opened fire in the food court. An odd feeling which led me to go outside and unknowingly out of harm’s way. It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around how a weird feeling saved me from being in the middle of a deadly shooting.”
Jordan Ghawi told The Associated Press his sister's death comes as a "complete and utter shock."
Former colleagues described her as ambitious and hardworking. She went by the name "Redfield," a play on her red hair, because it was easy to say and remember, both professionally and on her social media accounts.
She was a regular tweeter and her last post to the micro-blogging website stated in all capital letters, "movie doesn't start for 20 minutes."
John Larimer, 27: A third-generation member of the U.S. military, Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Larimer was at his first military post in Colorado, Fox 31 reports.
“I am incredibly saddened by the loss of Petty Officer John Larimer — he was an outstanding shipmate,” Cmdr. Jeffrey Jakuboski, Larimer’s commanding officer, told Fox 31. “A valued member of our Navy team, he will be missed by all who knew him. My heart goes out to John’s family, friends and loved ones, as well as to all victims of this horrible tragedy.”
Larimer's family said in a statement, "We love you, John, and we will miss you always."
Larimer, who grew up in the Chicago suburb of Crystal Lake, joined the service just more than a year ago, the Navy said.
Matt McQuinn, 27: As shots rang out in the theater, the Ohio native dove in front of his girlfriend Samantha Yowler, shielding her from the bullets, but losing his own life in the process.
Yowler was recovering from surgery after she was shot in the knee at the theater. Her 32-year-old brother, Nick Yowler, who also shielded his sister, was not injured.
"Unfortunately, Matt McQuinn perished from the injuries he sustained during the tragic events that unfolded in Denver, Colorado, and went home to be with his maker," Rob Scott, an Ohio attorney retained by the families of McQuinn and Yowler said in a statement. "As both families mourn the loss of Matt, they ask for everyone to give them distance and time. Again, the families thank everyone for their love, prayers and ask that we respect their families' wishes."
McQuinn and Yowler met while working at an Ohio Target store a few years ago, Fox 31 reported. They moved to Denver in 2011.
Micayla Medek, 23: A community college student who shared a love for the Green Bay Packers with her father, "Cayla" as she was known, came from a tight-knit family.
"I hope this evil act ... doesn't shake people's faith in God," her father's cousin, Anita Busch, told The Associated Press, saying her family was heartbroken.
Busch said the family did not learn of Medek’s death for 19 hours.
“We had been desperately trying to find her,” she told CNN.
Fox 31 reports a Facebook page attributed to Medek said she worked at Subway and studied at the Community College of Aurora.
“I’m a simple independent girl who’s just trying to get her life together while still having fun,” she said on the page, according to the station.
Veronica Moser-Sullivan, 6: The youngest victim, Moser-Sullivan was a "great little girl, excited about life," her great-aunt Annie Dalton told The Associated Press. "She should be at 6 years old."
Her mother, Ashley Moser, remains hospitalized in critical condition with gunshot wounds to her neck and abdomen. She has been in and out of consciousness and asking for her daughter during moments of lucidity.
"Nobody can tell her about it," Dalton said. "She is in critical condition, but all she's asking about is her daughter."
Fox 31 reports a cousin of the family says the little girl's father had just died two months ago.
“It just feels like, oh, my gosh, part of our family has been wiped out, Katherine Young told the station. "It’s just crazy.”
Alex Sullivan, 27: Sullivan's family called him "their real life super hero," and he was at "The Dark Knight Rises" premiere celebrating his 27th birthday and his first wedding anniversary.
"Alex was a gentle giant, known and loved by so many. He always had a glowing smile on his face and he made friends with everyone. Alex enjoyed all sorts of movies, was an avid comic book geek and loved the New York Mets," the family said in a statement.
Sullivan had a warm smile and an innocence that endeared him to people, said Shelly Fradkin, whose son Brian was good friends with Sullivan.
She sat next to a makeshift memorial Friday near the theater where an oversized birthday card with a photo of a smiling Sullivan was displayed.
"He's amazing. He was just a big teddy bear. Great hugs," she said.
She said Sullivan was such a big movie fan that he took jobs at theaters just to see movies.
Fradkin and her son spent an "excruciating" day trying to find Sullivan before learning of his death, she said.
"We're shocked. We're numb. We're sick," she said. "Our hearts are broken, and we're crushed."
Alexander C. Teves, 24: The Phoenix native, who had just graduated with his master's degree in counseling psychology in June from University of Denver, was called "the ideal grandson" by his grandfather.
"He was a fun guy. He loved to eat," said Carlo Iacovelli of Barnegat, N.J. "He had a lot to look forward to."
Teves, who was planning to become a psychiatrist, made friends quickly and had a lot of them, Iacovelli said.
“He was a wonderful nephew,” said paternal aunt Barbara Slivinske of New Jersey told Fox 31.
Rebecca Wingo, 32: Wingo's co-worker at a mobile medical imaging company said she was always in a good mood.
"I didn't really know her well, but she had a really bubbly personality," Shannon Dominguez told The Associated Press. "She was a pretty happy person. She just never really seemed ... like with work, she never got irritated. She was pretty happy to be here."
Fox 31 reports Wingo's father wrote an emotional Facebook post after his daughter's death.
“I lost my daughter yesterday to a madman, my grief right now is inconsolable, I hear she died instantly, without pain, however the pain is unbearable. Lord why, why, why????,” Steve Hernandez wrote. “I sit here and resist this entry however I feel I must, in disgust, in dismay, in prayer, I love you my daughter Rebecca, we all will miss you.”
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.