The Baca sisters (shown here) seemed to be having sunny lives. They were cheerleaders, twin teens in Las Vegas. Fans of country music in general and Jason Aldean in particular, they went to a high-energy, outdoor concert on Valentine’s Day in 2018.
Then came the rifle fire. “My boyfriend … picked me up and we ran for safety,” Gianna said.
Her sister Natalia gradually realized she’d been shot in the back. She headed to a medical tent, where an off-duty firefighter stepped in. “Dean (McAuley) said, ‘Don’t let your eyes come off me.’” He wanted to make sure she didn’t drift off, as they looked for a ride to the hospital.
The sisters recalled that day in an interview (alongside survivor-helpers Lonnie and Sandy Phillips) and at a Television Critics Association session. They’re featured in “In Memoriam,” a powerful documentary that debuts at 9 p.m. Saturday (Feb. 8) on Investigation Discovery.
Henry Schleiff, who heads the channel, sees one message as coming through: “In this day and age, there should be a regulation against assault rifles and the capacity to to kill 59 people (and wound 489) in a minute-and-a-half, or whatever it was. That’s crazy.”
Still, he said, the film – focusing on survivors in Las Vegas; Sutherland Springs, Texas; and Parkland, Fla. — “is not about guns.” It shows a quiet respect for people who love shooting.
In theLas Vegtas bedroom of his slain son, Joe Robbins show off a deer head on one wall. Hunting “was one of his biggest passions,” he says.
Frank Pomeroy – who is both a clergyman and a shooting instructor – reads the essay by daughter Annabelle, about a day of target practice. “That was the best time of my life,” she wrote.
She was slain at his Texas church; one of the film’s many heroes is the gun enthusiast who wounded and chased the shooter. “Was I scared?” Stephen Willeford says in the film. “I was terrified.”
Often, “In Memoriam” is about the heroes.
There is Julie Workman, a registered nurse who was stunned when a shooter invaded the church. Seeing a pre-schooler’s body, she screamed; a fellow parishioner (an ex-Marine) told her to get to work,
Her response, she says in the film: “You give me a few seconds to scream and holler for this poor child. Then I’ll get myself together.” She did and saved lives … including her son, now in a wheelchair.
And there’s McAuley. “He didn’t have to risk his life for all of us,” Natalia Baca told the TCA. “But he did.” With no ambulance in sight, he found a ride for her to the hospital – “he did not leave my side,” she said – then went to the hospital entrance and began helping others.
“In Memoriam” is also about survival – phusical and emotional. . “I never felt safe again,” Kyle Lama of Parkland says in the film. Adds Mark Joy of Las Vegas: “I lost part of myself that night.”
Survival happens in different stages, Sandy Phillips said. “You don’t get over what happened; you learn to deal with it.”
Her daughter survived a shooting … then, seven weeks later, was slain at a movie in Aurora, Colo. When other shootings followed, Lonnie sold his business; they went on the road to help survivors.
“Some people shut down and just push you away,” Sandy Phillips said, but others need a kindred spirit.
For the Baca twins, this is a new life. “Before this, my sister and I were not the closest,” Gianna said.
When she went to the hospital to look for her, she was overwhelmed by the blood and the pain. “I was just sort of out of it (staring down). Then something told me to look up; there was my sister.”
At 19, they dream of having a beauty salon. “We have chosen not to live in fear,” Gianna told the TCA.
Added Natalia: “I feel like just being kind and happy … could definitely change somebody’s outlook.”