AURORA, COLO. - Movie screen superheroes never die. But there were superheroes present in a darkened movie theater at Aurora Mall and some of them did die, like Matthew Robert McQuinn, who threw his body in front of his longtime girlfriend, Samantha Yowler, shielding her from the bullets that took his life.

McQuinn, 27, was one of 12 people killed when a gunman opened fire at the theater Friday, and, like many of the other victims, was young enough to have limitless possibilities ahead of him. He and Yowler, who was listed in stable condition, went to see the midnight premiere of the latest Batman installment with her brother. Her brother, too, was a superhero, leaping to protect his sister and pulling her from the theater to safety.

And Jonathan Blunk, 26, a Navy veteran and father of two young children, died when he saved his girlfriend, Jansen Young. "Jon just took a bullet for me," she told the "Today" show.

'Radiant, happy little girl'

Veronica Moser went to the movie with her mother. She was 6, too young to know that, in the ferocious uncertainty of life, that a theater could, without warning, become one of the most dangerous places on Earth. She died on the operating table, her cousin Katherine Young, 15, said Saturday. "She was just a radiant, happy little girl," said Young.

Veronica's mother, Ashley Moser, remained in the hospital, bullets lodged in her throat and abdomen. In her waking moments, she called for her daughter. Nobody had the heart to tell her that Veronica was dead, the youngest victim in one of the worst mass shootings in recent U.S. history.

The Aurora Mall theater, much like movie palaces everywhere, is a deeply American place, a refuge from daily cares that unites people from all backgrounds.

Alex Sullivan was a huge comic book fan who was at the premiere to celebrate his 27th birthday. "Oh man one hour till the movie and its going to be the best BIRTHDAY ever," he tweeted just before he died.

A day earlier, his father's desperate search for him was captured in a photograph that ran on dozens of newspaper front pages, including the Star Tribune. It gave people across the nation a glimpse of his grief as a pair of family members attempted to comfort him -- and each other.

'Have you seen my son?'

The father, Tom Sullivan, suspected the worst. He held up his son's photo and asked the crowd: "Where's my son? Where's my son? Have you seen my son?" according to Associated Press photographer Barry Gutierrez.

The photographer said the father's voice was deep, pained and intense. "It rattled my bones," Gutierrez said. "I started to cry. I've cried many times thinking about it."

The first victim to be identified, Jessica Ghawi, 24, had narrowly escaped a mass shooting at Eaton Center Mall in Toronto. An aspiring sports broadcaster, she had written that the experience had convinced her that each moment was precious and that we don't know "when or where we will breathe our last breath."

In this city of 325,000, where the military has had a strong presence for almost a century, the movie also drew in men schooled in combat but hoping, for a few hours, to forget about the business of war. Petty Officer 3rd Class John Larimer, 27, a Navy cryptologic technician stationed in Aurora since October, died from injuries sustained in the shooting. Staff Sgt. Jesse Childress, 29, from Thornton, Colo., was an Air Force reservist on active duty with the 310th Forces Support Squadron at Buckley Air Force Base, officials said.

Larimer's father, Scott Larimer, said his son John grew up as one of five children in Crystal Lake, Ill.

"We're still in shock," Larimer said Saturday. "Unfortunately, in the military you expect him to be in harm's way, but not in a theater."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.