Fayetteville, N.C. — Frightening moments play through a Fayetteville native's head, recalling the moments when he and his girlfriend nearly died in a mass shooting at a Colorado movie theater early last Friday.
"Seeing the canister fly and the gunshots being shot – that replays in my mind," said Derrick Poage, describing the night of July 20 when a gunman killed 12 people and injured 58 at a midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises" in Aurora, Colo.
Poage, 22, who goes to college in Colorado, said he and his girlfriend were 20 feet away from the gunman when he opened fired and hurled a gas canister into the crowded, dark theater.
"When I see the fire coming out of the shotgun, that is when I feel it is real," he said.
Poage and his girlfriend dashed out of the theater. Safely outside, he realized she hadn't made it out. As the wounded and terrified streamed from the theater, he ran back in to find her.
"It was something I thought I had to to," he said. "I did not want her family not to have a daughter, and I did not know what I would do without her."
He found his girlfriend still standing near their seats, seemingly frozen in fear. He grabbed her arm and pulled her down when the gunman started firing again. When there was a break in the fire, they sprinted out. Both were unharmed.
"We both just hugged each other," Poage said. "We could have been some of the people wounded or killed."
His first phone call was to his mother, Tammie Brown, of Fayetteville.
Brown got to embrace her son and hold him for the first time after the shooting when he flew into Raleigh-Durham International Airport Thursday evening.
"It could have been either way for Derrick," Brown said. "God was on his side."
Brown said barely escaping the massacre has taken a toll on her son.
"He keeps hearing the cries and the screams, he said, from men, women and children and tripping over people going out," she said.
Poage, who will be home for a week, said talking with his family everyday has helped him work out what he went through. He also attended a memorial service for the moviegoers who died.
He follows news coverage of the mass shooting, including stories about the suspect, James Holmes, 24.
"They say he planned everything, so he can't be that insane. You can't plan something like that for months and then try to fake something like that," he said.
Most often, Poage said, his thoughts turn to the people around him in the theater who never made it out.
"Parents, brothers and sisters lost their lives. I am just happy that I am able to see my family," he said.