AURORA, Colo. (AP) — A U.S. Navy veteran who served three tours of duty in the Middle East. A 6-year-old girl excited about her swimming classes. A Target employee who shielded his girlfriend and her brother with his own body. They and nine others were killed in the shooting rampage during a midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises" in a Denver suburb. Here are their stories:
Jonathan Blunk had high hopes for the future, with plans to re-enlist in the Navy and the goal of becoming a Navy SEAL.
The 26-year-old served three tours in the Persian Gulf and North Arabian Sea between 2004 and 2009, said close friend James Gill of Brighton, Colo.
"It was guts or glory for him," Gill told The Associated Press. "It always surprised me that he didn't serve in a situation more on the front line. He wanted to be a first responder on the front line."
Blunk was also a certified firefighter and emergency medical technician, Gill added.
He died in the shooting Friday after throwing himself in front of friend Jansen Young and saving her life, she told the NBC "Today" show. He told her to stay down.
"That's something he would do," Gill said. "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 Hug High School in Reno, Nev., most recently worked at a hardware store.
His estranged wife, Chantel Blunk, lives with their 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son in Sparks, Nev.
Alexander J. Boik, known as AJ, recently graduated from high school and was to start classes at the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design in the fall, The Denver Post reported.
The family said in a statement that the 18-year-old was loved by all who knew him and was dating "a beautiful young lady" who was with him at the theater and survived. "We want to try and focus on the beautiful lives that were ended and not the evil that is responsible," the family said.
A friend, Jordan Crofter, described Boik as someone who "didn't hold anything back. He was just his own person."
"He was a ball of joy. He was never sad or depressed. He wanted everybody to be happy," Crofter told The Associated Press.
Crofter said Boik played baseball from when he was a child through his junior year in high school.
He 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 was an Air Force cyber-systems operator based at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora.
Air Force Capt. Andrew Williams described the 29-year-old from Thornton, Colo., as knowledgeable, experienced and respectful. "We're going to miss him incredibly," he said.
Tech Sgt. Alejandro Sanchez, a co-worker, told the AP 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.
Another co-worker, Ashley Wassinger, said Childress "was a great person fun to be with, always positive and laughing."
"Really just an amazing person, and I am so lucky to have been his friend," she said.
Gordon Cowden loved life and his family, and he had gone to the midnight movie premiere with his two teenage children.
At 51, he was the oldest of the victims killed in the shooting. He lived in Aurora, but was described as a "true Texas gentleman" in a family statement. He loved the outdoors and owned his own business.
"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 teenage children escaped the shooting unharmed.
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.
The family released the following statement on Sunday:
“Loving father, outdoorsman and small business owner, Cowden was a true Texas gentleman that loved life and his family. 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”, according to a family spokesperson.
Cowden had taken his two teenage children to the theater the night of the tragedy. The teenagers escaped unharmed.
"The family of Gordon Cowden wishes to express appreciation for the concern and prayers offered us during this very difficult time. Our hearts go out to everyone that has been harmed by this senseless tragedy", relates the spokesperson.
The family respectively requests privacy as we cope with the loss of our loved one. Thank you for understanding that we will not be granting interviews or speaking to members of the media. Again, our thoughts and prayers are with all who are suffering due to this tragic event.
Jessica Ghawi recently wrote a blog post after surviving a shooting at a Toronto mall, saying it showed her "how fragile life was."
Friends say the 24-year-old, who moved to Colorado from Texas about a year ago, didn't let the June 2 shooting in Toronto change her outlook on life as she pursued a career in sports journalism.
"I think she even looked at that like, 'Hey, even after that, I'm able to pursue my dream,'" said Peter Burns, a radio sports show host with Mile High Sports Radio in Denver, where Ghawi recently interned.
That shooting left two dead and several injured. Her blog post last month said: "I saw the victims of a senseless crime. I saw lives change.
"I was reminded that we don't know when or where our time on Earth will end. When or where we will breathe our last breath."
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 was a Navy sailor based at Buckley Air Force Base, where he was a cryptologic technician — a job that the Navy says on its website should be filled by someone with "exceptionally good character, above-average writing and speaking skills, a good memory, curiosity and resourcefulness."
Those who knew him described him in similar terms.
The 27-year-old and another active service member, Air Force Sgt. Jesse Childress, were killed in the shooting rampage, the military said Saturday.
Larimer, who grew up in the Chicago suburb of Crystal Lake, Ill., joined the service just over a year ago, the Navy said.
"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 the victims of this horrible tragedy," said Cmdr. Jeffrey Jakuboski, his commanding officer, in a written statement.
A family member told the Daily Herald newspaper in Arlington Heights, Ill., that Larimer was the youngest of five siblings. Neighbors in his hometown recalled his sense of humor.
"We love you, John, and we will miss you always," his parents said in a statement.
As the attack in the movie theater unfolded, Matt McQuinn dove in front of his girlfriend and her older brother to shield them from the gunfire.
He died protecting them, said Rob Scott, an Ohio attorney retained by the families of McQuinn and his girlfriend, Samantha Yowler. Scott confirmed McQuinn's death to The Associated Press. He was 27.
"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," Scott 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."
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.
McQuinn and Yowler moved to Colorado from Ohio last fall. A Colorado co-worker told the Springfield News-Sun that McQuinn and Samantha Yowler worked with her at Target.
"They're really fun people. We always go out together," said Melissa Downen.
The death of 23-year-old Micayla Medek was heartbreaking, said her father's cousin, Anita Busch.
But Busch said the news also was a relief for the family after an agonizing day of waiting.
"I hope this evil act ... doesn't shake people's faith in God," she said.
Micayla Medek lived in the Denver suburb of Westminster, Colo., and attended Aurora Community College.
Her aunt, Jenny Zakovich, 57, of South Milwaukee, Wis., said Medek and her father were both huge Green Bay Packers fans.
The youngest of the victims killed in the attack was Veronica Moser-Sullivan.
She had just learned to swim, and at age 6, she was a "great little girl, excited about life," her great-aunt Annie Dalton said. "She should be at 6 years old."
Her mother, Ashley Moser, remains hospitalized 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."
Alex 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, of Phoenix, earned a master's degree in counseling psychology in June from University of Denver.
He was a lovable person who made friends quickly and had a lot of them, said his grandfather, Carlo Iacovelli of Barnegat, N.J.
As a boy, Teves moved from New Jersey to Phoenix with his parents. Iacovelli and his wife wintered there and spent a lot of time with him.
"He was what you might call an ideal grandson," Iacovelli said. "He was a fun guy. He loved to eat."
Teves was planning to become a psychiatrist, his grandfather said.
"He had a lot to look forward to," Iacovelli said.
Rebecca Ann Wingo had started a job several months ago as a customer relations representative at a mobile medical imaging company. She was 32.
Shannon Dominguez, who worked with Wingo on weekends, said she was friendly with everyone and always seemed to be in a good mood.
"I didn't really know her well but she had a really bubbly personality," Dominguez said. "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."
Associated Press writers who contributed to this report include Colleen Slevin and Mead Gruver in Denver.