A little more than five years ago, Theresa Hoover’s son A.J. Boik was taken from her in a way too devastating for most of us to ever fully comprehend.
She’s still working to determine what the next chapter in her life is after years of waiting for the killer to be brought to justice – and another year of wondering what that justice really meant.
“First we had the grieving, then we had the funeral,” Hoover said. “Then we had the trial and that whole three years of hell, right?”
Boik was one of the 12 people killed when a gunman opened fire on an Aurora movie theater just after midnight on July 20, 2012. Seventy others were injured, and the shooter was sentenced to 12 life sentences plus 3,318 years in prison after an Arapahoe County jury could not reach a unanimous verdict, sparing him the death penalty.
For more than a year, the mass murderer was hidden by the Colorado Department of Corrections. They said it was for his protection after he was assaulted by another inmate at the Colorado State Penitentiary in Canon City.
His location was not disclosed as part of the Interstate Corrections Compact, which many states use to swap the worst of the worst inmates. Not all of the states hide the location of these prisoners, but Colorado does – despite the fact the families of victims argue they have the right to know the location of the person who caused their devastation per their interpretation of the Colorado Victim Rights Act.
According to one section of the law, if a victim requests the whereabouts of an inmate in writing, the DOC “shall” provide the institution where the inmate is being held.
The Governor's chief legal counsel argued the law only requires DOC to notify the family if the inmate is being transferred to a lower security facility or if the move is permanent, not temporary. In their letters to victims, DOC says the prisoners had been “temporarily transferred,” and therefore their locations would not be disclosed.
“To be held in secrecy almost made it feel like he was being protected,” Hoover said. “I don’t think he deserved to be protected. My son wasn’t protected and he killed him.”
The DOC sent a letter to victims' families Wednesday afternoon informing them that the shooter was being moved into federal custody – and this meant that for the first time in more than a year, they would learn where the man who caused so much pain to many was being held.
Initially, they said his location would be available on the Bureau of Prisons website at 10 p.m. Wednesday. The fact that he was being housed at the Federal Correctional Complex in Allenwood, Pennsylvania was not made public until well after midnight.
Emily Tofte Nestaval, the executive director of the Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center, called the late night notification from the DOC about the shooter’s location “traumatizing” and “victimizing” to people who have already been through so much.
“Our question would be then why didn’t [the DOC] have a more thoughtful process about how you were going to notify victims in this in a way that wasn’t re-victimizing, re-traumatizing?” Nestaval said. “And you already knew that the victims needed and wanted this information, because they requested it and you denied it.”
The DOC did not say why the convicted murderer was sent to a federal facility, only that they’d been trying for months and that they finally secured space. DOC Spokesperson Mark Fairbairn said no money was involved in the switch to federal custody, and that he was transferred “for the best interest of the public, staff and the offender.”
Fairbairn declined to say how the inmate was moved, and did not comment on the specifics of his confinement, only that “he’s in a high security facility that ensures protection of the public, staff and offenders.”
Despite the fact the shooter’s location was posted so early in the morning – and that she admits she felt “anxious” in the hours leading up to the announcement – Hoover says she was nevertheless able to fall asleep.
It was something she says she couldn’t do when she learned the mass murderer was being transferred to an undisclosed location.
“I do kind of see the light to the rest of my life now,” Hoover said. “One last thing that is checked off. Now I have … to live the rest of my life, knowing I don’t have my son. So really is there a light? It’s a new life, you know what I mean? It’s a different life, I guess is a way to put it. Now that I know? I can check that off.”
She says she’s trying to determine the next chapter, but right now, “who knows?”
Nestaval asked that moving forward, the DOC place more thought on how they release information about a man who caused so much pain to so many.
“We can never fix or undo what has happened them, but we can at least treat them with fairness and dignity and respect,” Nestaval said. “And that is our hope at the end of the day, that the system would value that victims play a significant role and to put them at the forefront of the things that they are thinking and doing as well as community safety.”