Aurora's Other Massacre Victims' 20-Year Wait for Justice

Before the movie theater shooting, there was a massacre at Chuck E. Cheese's.

July 24, 2012, 3:57 PM

AURORA, Colo. July 26, 2012— -- The movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., was not the city's first massacre.

In 1993, a 19-year-old gunman shot and killed three teenagers and their manager at a Chuck E. Cheese's. A fifth person was shot in the face and lived.

The shooter was sentenced to death, but the victims' families have now been waiting for justice to be carried out for nearly 20 years.

The seemingly never ending legal process involved in trying to execute a death row inmate has forced these families to relive that awful day over the past two decades. Their constantly refreshed heartache provides a window into a potentially grim future for the families of Aurora's latest shooting victims.

Marjorie and Bob Crowell's 19-year-old daughter Sylvia Crowell was killed at the Chuck E. Cheese's shooting on Dec. 14, 1993. It was closing time and Sylvia was cleaning the salad bar when Nathan Dunlap, also 19, came up behind her and shot her in the head. Dunlap had recently been fired from the restaurant.

He went on to kill Ben Grant, 17, as he cleaned nearby and Colleen O'Connor, 17, who was cleaning the rowdy restaurant's quiet room for adults when Dunlap approached her. She begged for her life, but he showed no mercy. Dunlap also killed the restaurant's 50-year-old manager Margaret Kohlberg.

All four died from gunshot wounds to the head.

He also shot Bobby Stephens in the jaw and Stephens, 20 at the time, was the sole survivor.

"We have missed her terribly and we just wonder why somebody would do that," Bob Crowell, 77, told "She hadn't done anything to hurt anybody."

Marjorie Crowell, 71, noted that this December will be the 19th anniversary of their daughter's death and Sylvia was 19 when she was killed.

"She was killed in 1993 and it was a long time before the trial occurred," Crowell said. "It seems that we have to suffer a little more every time there's a delay and every time there's something else happening. We're interested in what's happening, but it's still trying on our patience and it saddens us every time we think about it."

After Dunlap's 1996 conviction for the killing spree, Bob Crowell was certain of the punishment he wanted for his daughter's killer.

"I was pushing for the death penalty," Crowell said. "I didn't know anyone that didn't want the death penalty."

Dunlap was sentenced to the die, but has been sitting on death row for nearly 20 years as he has moved through the judicial system's lengthy appeals process. The Crowells attended Dunlap's trial and nearly every appeal hearing. His most recent appeal was denied in April. He could still attempt to appeal with the Supreme Court, but if they deny him a hearing, his execution date could finally be set.

There are currently three inmates on death row in Colorado, which has executed only one prisoner since the death penalty was reinstated in 1984.

Bob Crowell is soft-spoken and has a kind face, but he showed hints of anger and frustration when he spoke about the two extra decades his daughter's killer has lived and the taxpayer money it has taken to keep him alive.

"It's really strange that here, within just five minutes or so, he was allowed to do what he did and yet it's taken so many years for the death penalty to be carried out," Crowell said. "We still believe 100 percent that he should have the death penalty. He should be executed."

With speculation about whether suspected movie theater gunman James Holmes, 24, will face the death penalty, attorneys involved have made it clear that pursuing the death penalty is a long process that victims' families must be aware of before deciding what they want to do.

Aurora, Colorado's Other Massacre

Though Holmes has not been charged with capital murder, Arapahoe County DA Carol Chambers said after Holmes' hearing that she is talking with victims and their family members about the potential pursuit of the death penalty.

"If the death penalty is sought, that's a very long process that impacts [victims' and family members'] for years," she said.

When the Crowell's heard about the shooting in Century 16's theater nine, they were "startled and saddened." The movie theater is less than two miles from their home.

As two of the very few people who can truly understand what the families of the 12 killed are feeling, the Crowell's stand by their decision to pursue the death penalty nearly two decades ago and they believe Holmes deserves the same.

"[Holmes] may plead insanity, but I don't think he was crazy enough to get him off the hook," Bob Crowell said. "I think he should be held responsible and he should get the death penalty way before five years. There's no need to delay."

Crowell said that for the survivors--both those who survived the shooting and the families of those who were killed--life will never be the same.

"I think that their whole lives will be altered," he said. "In other words, there's such a thing as PTSD [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder] for military members in combat. Well, these people have been exposed to something just as horrible as military combat and a lot of them are going to be altered so that they are not the people they would be, had this not happened. So, there's a lot of damage there and the families of those that were killed are going to be suffering just as we've suffered for a number of years."

Like the Crowell's, Russell Foltz-Smith, 35, has been suffering from the Chuck E. Cheese's shooting's residual trauma, an event that has haunted him for more than half of his life.

Foltz-Smith was another 17-year-old employee of the Chuck E. Cheese's at the time of the shooting. He had traded shifts with Bobby Stephens, the lone survivor, the night of the shooting. When Foltz-Smith was about to leave the restaurant, he got one final order for a single sandwich, which he recalled thinking was "really weird."

"It was 9:30 p.m. at a Chuck E. Cheese's on a school night. Nobody is there," Foltz-Smith told He clearly remembered having a strange feeling about the single man sitting near the door. He served the sandwich, cleaned up, said goodbye to his friends and co-workers and headed home, with the stranger at the door as the last person he saw in the restaurant.

"I got home and started to brush my teeth and then it came on the news that something had happened," he said. "I remember watching with a toothbrush hanging out of my mouth."

As he watched in horror, Foltz-Smith recalled having two distinct thoughts: "I was there. I was literally just there," and, "I know who did it."

He struggled with the people who tried to console him in the days and weeks following the shooting.

"People around you trying to console you, trying to soothe you, trying to get you back to a place," he said, trailing off. "It's almost like the world tries to implant in you how you're supposed to feel….'It's okay. There's a plan. Things happen.' It didn't make me feel okay. It just made me feel terrible. It's not consoling to hear these things. I don't understand what kind of plan would account for four other people dying."

Aurora's Other Killer Awaiting Execution After Nearly 20 Years

It took three years for Dunlap to go to court and Foltz-Smith said it grew increasingly difficult to tell the story in various forms over the years. He finished high school, went to the University of Chicago and was, in all respects, moving forward when he got the call.

"I had actually already moved on with my life and gotten through it and then I got the call saying I had to come to trial and testify," he said.

When asked whether he was hoping for the death penalty for Dunlap, he says he still struggles with his feelings on execution.

"I don't like the idea of killing someone else to bring justice for the death of other people. It doesn't mean I'm opposed," he said. "I know how I felt in the courtroom when I had to testify and this guy was looking at me and it didn't feel good. It was one of the most chilling moments of my life."

"Even if you take this person's life, I guarantee I'll re-live it anyway," he said. "You never get rid of this stuff."

Foltz-Smith added that he now has two daughters, ages 7 and 9, and does not know what he would want as a parent if anything were to happen to his girls.

Despite the passing of nearly 20 years, both the Crowells and Foltz-Smith still deal with the effects of the shooting on a nearly daily basis.

How often does Foltz-Smith think about the events of December 1993?

"It may not be every day, but it's pretty close," he said. "It's not debilitating, but you just get flashes of things." He said that, for him, a pervasive thought throughout his life is, "Has my life been worth me getting out of that?"

Foltz-Smith said that over the years he has run into many people who tell him they had been thinking about him, but hadn't reached out to say so. He hopes that people in contact with victims from the movie theater shooting will let them know they're being thought of.

"I encourage people to obviously be respectful, but reach out because they're going to be hurting for a long time," he said.

As for the Crowells and their daughter Sylvia, Bob Crowell said, "I think about her every one to three days and my wife, I think, thinks about her every day. And that's not something that'll go away. I can't say that it's really gotten a whole lot easier."

When asked if he had any advice for those who are just beginning the grieving process, Crowell paused and said, "I don't know of anything that would really help other than have faith in God, pray often and pray that you can forgive the perpetrator, if that's possible."

"My wife and I have been working on forgiving Nathan Dunlap and we're most of the way there, but not quite," he added.

Outside his Aurora home on Monday, Crowell pointed to the American flag over the doorway. He said he usually doesn't put it up, but, this week, it flies at half-mast.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events