Cary native helps youths escape rampage
Cary native Steven Ostergaard doesn't consider himself a hero. Many others might, however.
Ostergaard, 27, who now lives in Lake Bluff, was chaperoning a group of 11 14- to 21-year-olds to the midnight showing at the Aurora, Colo. movie theater where 12 people were killed and more than 50 others injured.
Ostergaard and the group settled into their seats in Theater 8 and never imagined that in the theater next door a gunman would open fire on moviegoers.
Ostergaard, a special education teacher in Waukegan, is in Colorado for a national conference, “Friends: Association of Young People Who Stutter.”
During a fight scene on the movie screen, Ostergaard said he saw smoke and thought an unruly moviegoer had set off fireworks. A piece of shrapnel struck an 18-year-old boy in his group.
Ostergaard rushed the teen to the lobby to get medical attention but still didn’t realize the magnitude of what was happening around him.
“I thought, man, this is really good special effects,” Ostergaard said in a phone interview from Aurora, Colo. “At first I thought the smoke was special effects, then I heard a banging and thought someone was throwing fireworks.”
Rounds of bullets were being fired, and when the shooter was done, about a dozen people were dead.
Ostergaard and the teen were the first out of Theater 8.
In the lobby, Ostergaard heard gunshots and realized it was time to get his group as far away as possible.
As he ushered the youths to the car, the lobby of the theater began filling with smoke, and he saw bloodied moviegoers running out of the theater doors.
“It was complete pandemonium,” Ostergaard said. “People were crying, people were bloody. Police were in complete defense mode; they had shotguns in hand. I think that really scared the kids.”
Ostergaard was unsure of where the shrapnel came from that struck the teen in his group. He couldn’t say whether it was stray bullets in the neighboring movie theater or from what he described as an “explosion” in a nearby stairwell.
The injured teen was recovering at a hospital, where he had surgery to remove the shrapnel from his wrist.
The group returned to their hotel and Ostergaard immediately called each youth’s parents, then watched Twitter for constant updates as the grisly scene unfolded.
“I never really felt scared,” he said. “I was more nervous, and I wanted to make sure my kids were OK. To me, it hasn’t settled in just yet.
“My big thing is, I don’t want to sound like a hero,” he said. “I just had to stay calm for the kids. I couldn’t let them know that inside I was very nervous.”
Ostergaard graduated from Cary-Grove High School in 2003.
If you have any technical difficulties, either with your username and password or with the payment options, please contact us by e-mail at email@example.com