ASPEN, Colo. (AP) – Marcus Weaver was a survivor long before he escaped this summer’s mass shooting at an Aurora movie theater.

Weaver, among the 58 wounded, said he is grateful for surviving the tragedy.

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He’s had experience overcoming obstacles before. He points to a tumultuous time spent living in Aspen as a formative experience.

“Aspen was really the place I turned things around,” Weaver said.

Weaver, 41, lived here from 2000 to 2004, a period he described as a low point in his personal life, where he partied hard and piled up legal troubles. The Virginia Beach, Va., native returned to Aspen over the holiday weekend, his first trip away from the Front Range since the theater shooting on July 20.

“I was one of those kids that moves to Aspen and gets caught up in the nightlife scene,” he said.

Knowing he needed to make some fundamental changes to his life, he moved to Glenwood Springs and then Denver, where he hoped to get a fresh start.

Today, he works at Bud’s Warehouse, a nonprofit thrift store, where he returned to work two weeks after the shooting. These days, he said, he spends his free time doing community service. Before heading to Aspen for the weekend, he spoke to middle schoolers at Denver’s Highline Academy about his troubled years and turning things around as part of his work with Friends First, a Denver-based youth mentoring program.

He now incorporates his experience in the theater shooting with the lessons he tries to impart to youngsters about right living.

At midnight on July 20, Weaver and his friend Rebecca Wingo were seated in the fifth row for the midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises,” down the road from his Aurora home.

He recalled his confusion when “smoke bombs” soon filled the theater, followed closely by gunfire.

“It sounded like fireworks at first,” he said. “At that point something told me unconsciously to get on the floor. I don’t know why I didn’t get hit at that point.”

His friend Wingo was struck, and she was among 12 killed.

When the shooting briefly stopped – later, he learned, because the gunman’s rifle jammed – he attempted to carry Wingo out but lost her in the crawling confusion of smoke and terror. When the shooting resumed, he was struck with shotgun spray.

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“It was the most horrific and surreal experience I’ve had,” he said.

It wasn’t until he was outside the theater that Weaver realized he’d been shot – peppered with shotgun pellets in his right arm and shoulder. He had surgery in late August to remove the shrapnel. Weaver counts himself lucky to be alive, but he has been proactive in dealing with the psychological and emotional trauma of the shooting.

He sought counseling, consoled Wingo’s family, and initially talked often with the media about the incident.

Weaver appeared on CNN with Anderson Cooper the day after the shooting, his arm in a sling, recounting the horrific scene.

He has tried to avoid falling into what he called a “false sense of celebrity” from all the attention.

“People say I’m a hero, but the real survival story began a long time ago in Aspen when I was getting in trouble and the Lord saved me,” Weaver said.

He hasn’t been to court to see the accused shooter, James Holmes. The district attorney’s office, he said, has alerted victims of all court proceedings, but he doesn’t expect to take part until there is a trial or plea agreement at hand.

Weaver has signed on with other victims organizing to file a class action civil lawsuit related to the shooting, possibly against the theater where it occurred. Weaver has not had problems with the victims fund, or taken sides in the recent controversy over how millions of dollars raised in the names of the victims are being allocated. Weaver and each of the survivors received $5,000 from the Colorado Organization for Victims Assistance, and the victims fund has paid his medical bills.

“I think they’ve been excellent,” he said. “I feel confident that the money will go to the right people eventually. My experience has been nothing but good.”

Among the wounded, Weaver added, his injuries are minor compared with those who were maimed and paralyzed.

His trip to the mountains for the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Festival marked his first time away from home since the shootings. He said he was drawn to Aspen because wanted to come back and be with the friends who have supported him since his wayward days here.

“I still have some great friends in Aspen,” Weaver said. “They’ve seen me go from being this ski bum kid getting in trouble to turning my life around and now this.”

– By ANDREW TRAVERS, Aspen Daily News

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