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Children’s Hospital nurse in Colorado theater when shooting begins, aids victims

Jul. 24, 2012, 11:15 AM

Mia Bransford, R.N., EMT
Mia Bransford, R.N., EMT

Mia Bransford, R.N., EMT, a nurse in the Pediatric Emergency Department at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, was attending a family reunion and was at the Century 16 theater in Aurora, Colo., last Friday just after midnight to enjoy the new Batman movie.

That confluence of events made her one of the few trained health care workers on the scene in the early minutes of the mass shooting at that theater that left 12 dead and 58 injured.

Bransford and her sister, Marisa Sharp, were in one of the three showings of The Dark Knight Rises, but not the one targeted by the gunman who fired into the crowd.

“The first thing was the fire alarm began flashing, like a strobe, and a recorded voice said we needed to evacuate the theater,” she said.

She said at first she thought the alarm and lights were part of the movie, and even after audience members began getting up to leave, the house lights remained down and the movie kept playing.

“I thought if it was a real emergency, they would stop the movie and turn on the lights,” she said.

When she saw police officers with weapons drawn and stepped outside and saw people bleeding, she knew something bad had happened, though, of course, not yet exactly what, or how horrific a scene had just unfolded inside the theater.

“I heard people saying, ‘My friend’s been shot’ or ‘Somebody’s been shot.’ I identified myself as an emergency nurse and said that I could offer aid,” she said. She and a firefighter were working with several patients in the area at the back of the theater. There were two patients with whom she was working most closely, one with a head wound and wrist pain, and the other with what she described as “a bad leg wound that I applied direct pressure to and elevated.”

When ambulances weren’t able to pick up victims, police loaded the wounded into squad cars for transport to hospitals.

Mia Bransford, R.N., EMT (left) and her sister, Marisa Sharp, pose for a happy cellphone photo just before the midnight screening of "The Dark Knight Rises" at the Century 16 theater in Aurora, Colo.
Mia Bransford, R.N., EMT (left) and her sister, Marisa Sharp, pose for a happy cellphone photo just before the midnight screening of "The Dark Knight Rises" at the Century 16 theater in Aurora, Colo.

It was after 4 a.m. when the two sisters were cleared by authorities to leave. Everyone was questioned, contact information was taken, and even when the incident commander cleared them to leave, they had to call for a ride; their car was still in the area considered the crime scene, and couldn’t be moved.

She remembers at some point, when it was all over, thinking to herself, “You didn’t know you had that in you.”

But of course, she did know. As an emergency room nurse and an EMT, she says, “You kind of get used to knowing how to handle emergency situations.”

There was a professional pride in her ability to stay calm, to handle the situation, to offer help without hesitation. And, as the big sister—a designation that never goes away, even in adulthood—she wanted to stay strong for her younger sister, too.

Bransford said she was awake for all the following day (after no overnight sleep, of course), running on adrenaline and retelling the story to family and friends, which was helpful.

“It was definitely a very traumatic experience,” she said. Part of that trauma was the coincidences, the haunting what-ifs.

She said she and Marisa had planned to see the movie that night, but had neglected to purchase advance tickets. When they bought their tickets about an hour before showtime, they got seats in the only auditorium that wasn’t sold out.

And the unavoidable thought comes: What if they had bought tickets earlier in the week, and had ended up in the auditorium where a dozen people died?

The randomness of it is undeniable, and no amount of thinking makes it make sense.

“You’re in the theater, expecting to see a movie, and then all this chaos is going on. … How does a girl on vacation from Tennessee end up in something that makes headlines all over the country?

“It doesn’t seem real,” she said. [Being involved in this] helped me not to take life for granted, and to know to tell those that I love that I love them.”

She said she has no desire to return to a movie theater right now. As for seeing the rest of The Dark Knight Rises: “Perhaps I’ll be ready when it’s released on DVD.”

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