AURORA, Colo. - Stephen Barton was bloodied from gunshot wounds as he staggered away from the hellish chaos inside a Colorado movie theater, but he didn't realize how badly he was hurt until he saw shock reflected in the faces of people who looked at him.
"I remember people looking at me and their eyes just widening because I was covered in blood," Barton, 22, said Sunday from his hospital room at the Medical Center of Aurora. "Then I realized how bad I must have looked and how serious it was."
Barton and two friends were watching the midnight premiere of "Dark Knight Rises" in Aurora on Friday when a gunman unleashed two canisters of gas and opened fire, killing 12 and injuring 58.
Barton and a friend, Ethan Rodriguez-Torrent, both from Southbury, Conn., were six weeks into a cross-country bicycling trip when they pulled into Aurora on Thursday afternoon. They arranged to spend the night at the home of another of Rodriguez-Torrent's friends, and they all went to the movie.
Like nearly everyone else in the darkened theater, Barton at first thought the smoke and popping noises that erupted were part of a stunt. Then he was hit by gunfire, first in the neck and then his left forearm.
"I never even saw the shooter. He was in black, his gun flashing in front of him," Barton said. "To me, he was and is an inhuman object that I don't associate with as a human being."
Barton tumbled to the floor, trying to stanch his bleeding neck wound and listening to the methodical gunfire.
Eventually the firing stopped and the victims' screams filled the air. "I just thought this was the end for me, this will be the end of my life," Barton said.
He saw people bolting for a door, and he ran with them, out of the theater, through the lobby and into the parking lot, where he was rushed to the hospital.
Rodriguez-Torrent escaped unhurt. Their friend has a brain injury from a gunshot in her face, but doctors are optimistic about her recovery, Barton said. They declined to identify her by name.
Barton and Rodriguez-Torrent might finish their ride to San Francisco next year, leaving from the Aurora movie theater and using the ride to raise money for other victims and their families.
Barton said he will gladly carry the scars from his wounds as a reminder of how precious life is.
"You always think that these tragedies can't happen to you, until you find yourself laying on a movie theater floor covered in blood," he said.