By Gina Tron | Photo by Giles Clasen
Marcus Weaver’s work with organizations like Denver’s New Genesis helped him heal after surviving the 2012 shooting at Aurora’s Fox Theater.
It seemed like everything was on the right track for Marcus Weaver after he graduated radiology school. He was the top student in his class and even won a national award. Despite that, he admits, “you can always find ways to self destruct.” He was going on crime sprees, stealing mp3 players and computer products and trading them in for thousands, and dealing and taking drugs. At his lowest point, he engaged in a high-speed chase with the police, which resulted in him being briefly hospitalized.
Weaver attributes some of his behavior after radiology school to his past, which he never dealt with. He grew up in an abusive family environment. His father beat Weaver as a child and molested Weaver’s sister. During his self-destructive years, he was homeless. “When you have drugs and money you can stay anywhere you want,” said Weaver. He went to jail for eleven months in Boulder county, Jefferson County, and Arapahoe county. Weaver was facing 40 years but the judge sentenced him to three. In jail, he began attending church and became friends with the Chaplain’s office and pastors. He also began reading, and learning about why he had been so self-destructive.
In 2007 Weaver entered New Genesis, a transitional housing community that offers job opportunities and living arrangements. He didn’t like the rules of living at the community, which is located in a church basement—waking up at 5:30 am and doing chores is one requirement.
Despite his dislike of the structure, New Genesis saw potential in Weaver. He was asked to be a team leader, which he at first was disinterested in. But he completed the New Genesis program, which gave him structure and a sense of family, and he became part of the staff.
Eventually, Weaver helped start the Denver Green Jobs Initiative, which helps the unemployed find work. There, he got good at talking to people who hire individuals with bad backgrounds. He established relationships with employers who started to trust Weaver to send him good employees. “Everyone wants to be the second employer but nobody wants to be the first employer to somebody with a background,” said Weaver. People got wind that he was talented at connecting people with employment, and he got a call from Bud’s Warehouse to be an Operation Manager. From there, Weaver got invited to be on boards and help out the community in a variety of ways.
All was going well—Weaver met Rebecca Wingo and they really hit it off and became great friends. “We would have in-depth conversations and she was a really cool girl,” Weaver remembered.
The two had plans to see the Dark Knight at the Century Theater in Aurora July 20, 2012. They met in the front of the theater. Wingo wanted a hot dog and a drink, so Weaver got it for her. The movie started and all seemed okay until a smoke bomb was thrown into the theater. “I can’t believe someone’s throwing a smoke bomb,” Weaver remembers saying to his friend. At the time, the area had strict fire restrictions and even fireworks were not allowed, so they thought it was a joke.
It became clear it wasn’t when the killer began shooting. Weaver described the sound as being so loud that it was like thunder in his ear, every shot so loud that he felt it in his body. He and Wingo, whose body would soon be lifeless, got down on the ground. It was only after Weaver left the theater that he realized he had also been shot; a young girl came up to him and told him his arm was bleeding. He had bullets lodged deep into his shoulder.
Tammie Carroll, Chief Executive Officer of New Genesis, had known Weaver from his time spent living at New Genesis. “After the shooting,” said Carroll, “he really struggled with trying to cope with the loss of a friend and trying to figure out the best way to move forward. He had emotional challenges and we tried to be here for him.” Weaver spent a lot of time at New Genesis after the shooting, volunteering and working with people in the program. More than that though, he found solace in his friends there and through helping others.
Despite that, he still needed to give himself additional attention. “I thought I could still do everything I used to but it wasn’t like that. I started developing symptoms of PTSD,” said Weaver. He began having outbursts and would feel insecure being in public places where he didn’t know where the exit was. He also was in physical pain. His arm was sore but he felt bad complaining about shoulder numbness when others lost their lives. “I didn’t really even talk to my wife about the shooting. I didn’t want to let her know that I had a problem.”
Earlier this year, Weaver watched the film American Sniper and saw himself in Bradley Cooper’s character: distant and suffering from PTSD. It was at this point that he decided to take care of his mental health. “I worked really hard with my therapist and my wife and I’m finally at a point where I wouldn’t say I’m invincible but I’m moving forward.” Weaver’s relationship with New Genesis came full circle this year when he got offered a job as director of client services and programs. He also works part time as an outreach coordinator and career coach with Denver Works. “I get to work with men and women everyday that were like me eight years ago. They look up to you for being this guy that overcome all these crazy obstacles.”
Now Weaver is able to give back to the organization that gave so much to him: he teaches people with felonies at New Genesis how to present themselves and their backgrounds, and how to get jobs. He also teaches resume building and has a booklet of jobs and housing for interested people in need. He helps people navigate and build self-sufficiency. Meanwhile, Weaver is taking care of himself, and looking forward to a new chapter—he and his wife have a baby on the way. He credits New Genesis for being a tool for not only helping him become a better person before the shooting, but also after. His story and existence inspire current residents at New Genesis, giving them hope and showing them that a person can overcome anything. ■