AURORA, Colo. — The images brought it all back for survivors of the 1999 Columbine massacre. The blood. The tears. The confusion and the heartache, the elusive search for a reason why.

Paralyzed in the Columbine shootings, Anne Marie Hochhalter, now 30, says friends still reach out to alert her to prepare for disturbing images on the news. She got a text message Friday morning when she woke up. Warning, it said. There was another one, this time close to home. "Don't watch news," it said. "mass shooting in aurora."

Hochhalter took a deep breath and turned on the TV.

"My heart just fell," Hochhalter said Sunday. "It brought back a lot – flashbacks from that day. At the time, I was so hurt I wasn't watching the news, you know, watching it like other people were. But this time, I was right there, seeing it all."

Columbine students who survived what in 1999 was the worst school massacre in U.S. history are reliving their own experiences. And they're banding together to try to help. On Facebook and by phone, they are reaching out to people who witnessed Friday's early-morning slayings of 12 people at a movie theater in Aurora.

Now a retail manager, Hochhalter said she can offer a little hope.

"I would tell them that with time, it does get better. But it never goes away," she said.

Hochhalter sat in the front row wearing a silver cross around her neck during a vigil for the victims Sunday, joining several thousand people who gathered to pray as the sun set. Mourners released purple balloons and cheered police officers who responded to the shooting. A gospel choir and brass quintet played.

Gov. John Hickenlooper looked choked up in his remarks after meeting relatives of the dead with Obama.

"It was almost like somehow God had come down and picked the most vibrant and alive among us and taken them," the governor said.

Hickenlooper read the name of each victim, with the crowd shouting after each one: "We will remember."

Several pastors spoke, including one who also prayed for "the conversion" of the shooter.

Young people were victims and witnesses in both the theater shootings and the ones at Columbine. The Columbine survivors want those at the movie theater to know that the road ahead of them won't be easy.

"Similar to the graduating senior class from Columbine, they may soon find themselves surrounded by people who have no clue that they were involved in a traumatic event," Columbine survivor Ben Lausten wrote on a Facebook page for survivors of school shootings.

"Breaking down and crying for no apparent reason (which is perfectly normal!) is harder to do in an office, or a business, or in `normal' society," he said. "These victims have a challenging path ahead of them."

Another piece of advice: Don't waste time trying to figure out what motivated the shooter or shooters.

"It's a waste of time, and it gives them exactly what they want," said Hochhalter, who was eating lunch as a 17-year-old junior when she was shot in the chest and spinal cord on April 20, 1999. Even as the years pass, she said, she's no closer to understanding why Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot and killed 11 classmates, a teacher, and then themselves.

"I don't think I'll ever understand," Hochhalter said.

But the Columbine survivors understand this: The Aurora survivors will need to talk. And they promise to listen.

"We know what they are going through, and we can help," wrote Michelle Romero Wheeler, a Columbine survivor who posted links to sites supporting people at the theater shooting.

___

Online:

Facebook page for school shooting survivors: http://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/328393147778

Loading Slideshow...
  • People attending a candle-light prayer gathering cry as they pray, Friday, July 20, 2012, in Aurora, Colo., across the street from the movie theater where a gunman killed at least 12 people and wounded dozens of others Friday in one of the deadliest mass shootings in recent U.S. history. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

  • People hold hands as they pray during a vigil, Friday, July 20, 2012, in Aurora, Colo., across the street from the movie theater where a gunman killed at least 12 people and wounded dozens of others Friday in one of the deadliest mass shootings in recent U.S. history. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

  • People attending a candle-light prayer gathering sit comfort each other, Friday, July 20, 2012, in Aurora, Colo., across the street from the movie theater where a gunman killed at least 12 people and wounded dozens of others Friday in one of the deadliest mass shootings in recent U.S. history. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

  • Tents put up by the major television networks are illuminated as the sun sets over the Century 16 theatre east of the Aurora Mall in Aurora, Colo., on Friday, July 20, 2012. Authorities report that 12 died and more than three dozen people were shot during an assault at the theatre during a midnight premiere of "The Dark Knight." (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

  • People attending a candle-light prayer gathering surround a a group of candles and U.S. flags, Friday, July 20, 2012, in Aurora, Colo., across the street from the movie theater where a gunman killed at least 12 people and wounded dozens of others Friday in one of the deadliest mass shootings in recent U.S. history. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

  • Esmeralda Carbajal, second from lower left, lights candles at a growing memorial across the street from the Century 16 movie theater, late Friday, July 20, 2012, in Aurora, Colo., nearly 24 hours after a gunman killed at least 12 people and wounded dozens of others watching the latest Batman film in one of the deadliest mass shootings in recent U.S. history. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

  • Well-wishers left notes and flowers on the sidewalks surrounding the blocked-off Century 16 movie theater in Aurora.

  • Candles, flowers and a stuffed bear accumulated on the stairs of a graffiti-marked building next to the Century 16 Theater where the shooting occurred early Friday morning.

  • Stuffed animals sat at the base of many trees across the street from the theater where the shooting took place. These "Winnie The Pooh" bears sat at the base of one bathed in candlelight.

  • Candles with pictures of saints stood in pools of wax across the street from the theater where the shooting took place in the early hours of Friday, July 20, 2012.

  • Mother Suyapa Zlaya (second from left) sits across the street from the Century 16 theater with daughters Katheryn (far left), Haley and Blanca. Blanca attended the "Dark Knight Rises" premiere at nearby Harkins Theater the night of the shooting instead of the Century theater they usually attend. Her mother says she feared she might have been in the theater where the shooting occurred when she couldn't reach Blanca immediately by phone. The family says after their experience they wanted to come and show their support.

  • Candles, stuffed animals and pools of wax sit in the blueish glow of media lights nearby in Aurora.

  • Well-wishers and onlookers pass by signs of support at 10:30 p.m. across the street from the Century 16 Theater in Aurora.

  • Friends Greg Duran, 26, Cierra Human, 21, and Arielle Merelli, 21, say they had planned to attend the "Dark Knight Rises" premiere at the Century 16 Theater in Aurora the night of the shooting but Duran had to work earlier and they decided against it.

  • Cars remain in the parking lot of the Century 16 movie theater, late Friday, July 20, 2012, in Aurora, Colo., nearly 24 hours after a gunman killed at least 12 people and wounded dozens of others watching the latest Batman film in one of the deadliest mass shootings in recent U.S. history. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)