Cary native and Lake Bluff resident Steve Ostergaard was watching the midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises" at the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, Colo., when, about a half-hour into the movie, smoke and gunfire erupted on the screen.
It was the movie's first violent action scene.
But it soon became all too real for Ostergaard and others in the crowded movie theater.
"At first we thought it was special effects. We saw the floor smoking ... then something flew past my neck," he said.
It turned out to be a bullet.
Ostergaard, 27, a special-education teacher at a private school in Waukegan, was chaperoning a trip to the movies with 11 teens in town for a national conference sponsored by Friends: The National Association of Young People Who Stutter. He had been planning a movie night for the teens, who range in age from 14 to 21, since March.
He says they were in theater 8 -- next door to theater 9, where a gunman opened fire on unsuspecting theatergoers in a bizarre attack that killed 12 and wounded 58.
Ostergaard says the gunshots came through the walls and injured one of the teens in his group, an 18-year-old male from Ohio. Initially, Ostergaard thought fireworks were going off in the theater.
He says he grabbed the injured teen and rushed him to the lobby. He continued to hear other loud explosions going off.
"Once I got out to the lobby, I saw how much blood he was dripping. I put two and two together and realized it was not fireworks," Ostergaard said. "Then the mass hysteria came."
"I knew there was something bad going on."
Ostergaard took the injured teen to the parking lot, where he was treated by medical personnel. They discovered he was shot in the arm, but later he had surgery and is doing well now, Ostergaard said.
The other teens in the group, and Ostergaard, escaped uninjured. When the gunfire erupted, they ran to the parking lot, jumped in a van, and Ostergaard drove back to the hotel. All the while, he says he remained calm, since he had received crisis training as part of his job as a behavioral middle schoolteacher.
"I knew I wanted to get them back safe," he said.
He says the teens, too, remained fairly calm through the ordeal, until they got back to the hotel and were reunited with their parents.
"They started crying when their moms and dads greeted them. They really fell apart."
He said the conference, expected to be attended by 300 people, will go on as planned through Sunday in Colorado, and counselors will be available for the teens and their family members.