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

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

ByABC News
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.