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Aurora shooting victim says tragedy 'won't hold her back'

Colorado teen hopes to attend BYU or UVU next year

Published: Thursday, Aug. 16 2012 8:04 p.m. MDT

McKayla Hicks, who was injured during the Colorado theater shooting, walks with her father, Greg, in Salt Lake City, Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — On July 19, Greg Hicks of Aurora, Colo., had gone to bed around 11:30 p.m.

A little more than an hour later, his son woke him up and told him his daughter, McKayla, had been shot and, saying nothing else, walked out.

McKayla Hicks was attending a midnight screening of "The Dark Knight Rises" and was in an adjacent theater to the one where a gunman opened fire, killing 12 people and wounding 58 others. A bullet fragment passed through the theater wall and struck her in the chin.

McKayla was eventually able to call her father from the back of a police car and let him know she was going to be all right. But in the meantime, Greg Hicks said he could both see the theater and hear the sirens from the front door of his home and had no idea the extent of his daughter's injuries.

"I was as angry as I've ever been in my life," he said. "My baby just got shot and I am mad."

The Hicks family — in Utah this week for a wedding — said nearly one month after the shooting, McKayla is holding up well both emotionally and physically. Doctors initially told her that the bullet was too close to nerves to be removed, but she said her oral surgeon decided the bullet created a path through her bone and tissue and can be taken out.

"I'm happy it's coming out," she said. "I'll put it on a necklace and keep it forever."

McKayla will be a senior at Bennett High School this year, where she plays on the basketball team. She's happy that her injuries haven't affected her athletic abilities and said she doesn't want the shooting, or the memory of it, to interfere with her life.

"I got shot in the face but I can talk, I can walk, I can breathe, I can do everything," she said. "This won't hold me back from anything and I don't think it should hold anyone back."

Looking forward, she said she hopes to end up back in Utah playing basketball at Brigham Young University, the "school of her dreams," or possibly at nearby Utah Valley University.

"I would like to go somewhere where there are people like me who share the same standards and beliefs," she said Thursday.

Greg Hicks said Aurora is still healing from the tragedy, but there has also been an outpouring of love and support from the community.

"The support was just phenomenal, from everyone," he said.

McKayla said she's attended two of the court hearings for suspected shooter, James Holmes, where she's had a chance to catch up with other victims and check on their progress.

She hasn't had any trouble sleeping, or experienced any flashbacks to the shootings, but said her injuries could have been much worse and her heart goes out to the families who lost loved ones.

"All I have to worry about is when I smile for the wedding pictures I cover the gap right here," she said, pointing to where a tooth was knocked out by the bullet.

Greg Hicks said its hard to comprehend the loss experienced by the other victims and their families. He said he and his wife are fortunate in that they knew where their daughter was after the shooting and realized that she was going to be fine.

"I can't feel their pain and their suffering and their loss," he said. "We get to replace two teeth, they can't replace their child. We're so grateful and blessed that she's right here with me and she's perfectly healthy."

McKayla said she plans to attend as many of Holmes' court hearings as possible. At the first hearing, she wanted to see what Holmes looked like and was surprised by his appearance, which she described as "odd" and "pathetic."

But at future hearings, she said she hopes to hear answers to questions like, "Why that particular screening?" and "Why that theater?" or just "Why?"

She eventually made it back to see the rest of "The Dark Knight Rises." She said it was a good movie, although not as good as "The Dark Knight," but confessed part of her preference is based on an obsession with Heath Ledger. She said it was important for her to go back to a theater and watch the movie, because if she didn't than the shooter would have won.

"I don't think we live in a really violent world," she said. "I think its not the whole world that's corrupt and violent, it's certain people who want the violence and corruption to happen."

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