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Air Force Staff Sgt. Jesse Childress gave his life trying to protect a friend, Munirih Gravelly, in the Aurora, Colorado, shooting. In her first TV interview, Gravelly recalls her friend and his ultimate act of bravery. Beverly White reports from Aurora for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on Sunday, July 22, 2012.
Former soldier and Air Force Reservist Jesse Childress was the kind of guy who would do anything for anybody.
“My brother’s wheelchair broke,” said one long-time neighbor in Lake Los Angeles, where Childress grew up. “He (Jesse) fixed it and didn’t charge him a dime.”
Childress was one of the 12 people killed in Friday morning’s shooting rampage at an Aurora, Colo. movie theater. He was there at the midnight showing with fellow reservist Munirih Gravelly when James Holmes allegedly set off a can of tear gas before opening fire in the jam-packed theater.
"As soon as that little gas can exploded, I said, 'This is wrong,'” Gravelly told NBC4. “At first when I thought it was a prop, the part of the movie that it came in on, I thought, ‘That doesn’t make much sense.'”
Gravelly told NBC4 how she dove for the floor when she heard gunfire.
"I felt something hit my hand really hard,” she said. “It hurt, but I figured I could worry about that later. So I just kept my face down.”
She never saw the gunman, but Gravelly, who was wounded by buckshot, vividly recalls reaching for her friend and movie-going companion, Staff Sgt. Jesse Childress.
"He wasn't moving. He was really still,” she recalled. “I’ve never seen anybody so still. We shook him and called his name and he didn't respond."
Gravelly said she feels tormented over how Childress died.
"I feel really sorry that he's gone,” she said. “None of us noticed until the lights, until it was over, that he was gone. None of us were there to hold his hand, look him in the eye while he passed."
She looks back in disbelief, at how it started so innocently. A long-awaited midnight screening with friends.
"We were really happy, the theater was full,” she said. “Everyone started to cheer when the movie started.”
Gravelly said the military trains you how not to make a bad situation worse.
"Maybe I was a coward for just staying there,” she said, tears welling in her eyes. “Because I lost a friend, you always wish there's something you could do."
Gravelly weeped when she talked about how close she came to never seeing her daughter again.
“She just turned 6 in July,” said Gravelly of her daughter. “Who’s ever going to be able to explain why I'm gone?”