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Published: Thursday, 1/17/2013

Some victims to attend ceremony at Colo. theater

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Workers with American Fence remove the fence from around the Century theater in Aurora, Colo. Workers with American Fence remove the fence from around the Century theater in Aurora, Colo.
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AURORA, Colo.— The Colorado movie theater where a gunman killed 12 people and wounded dozens of others reopens Thursday with a private ceremony for victims, first responders and officials — an event boycotted as insensitive by some who lost loved ones in the massacre.

Theater owner Cinemark plans to reopen the entire 16-screen complex in Aurora to the public temporarily on Friday, then permanently on Jan. 25. Aurora's mayor, Steve Hogan, has said residents overwhelmingly support reclaiming what he calls an “important venue for Aurora.”

Former neuroscience student James Holmes is charged with 166 felony counts, mostly murder and attempted murder, in the July 20 massacre at a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises.” Holmes has until March to enter a plea.

Details about Thursday's ceremony — which was to include the showing of an undisclosed movie — were a closely guarded secret. Cinemark, of Plano, Texas, refused to comment on the remembrance, refurbishments to the theater, or security measures. Victims and invited officials also declined to comment.

Victims have filed at least three federal lawsuits against Cinemark alleging it should have provided security for the midnight “Dark Knight” premier on July 20 and that an exit door used by the gunman to get his weapons and re-enter should have had an alarm. In court papers, Cinemark says the tragedy was “unforeseeable and random.”

Those invited to attend Thursday's event included victims, families, first responders, Hogan and Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Some victims said it's important to reclaim the theater. Others called its reopening insensitive and criticized Cinemark for not consulting with them about what should happen to the theater where their loved ones were killed.

“The community wants the theater back and by God, it's back,” said Tom Sullivan, whose son, Alex Sullivan, was killed. “Nobody is going to stop us from living our lives the way that we lived our lives before. This is where I live.”

Sullivan has said movies have long been a way for his family to gather together; his son's trip to the latest Batman movie was part of a 27th birthday celebration.

However, Alex Sullivan's widow, Cassandra Sullivan, has joined with those relatives who are boycotting the event. In a letter sent to Cinemark earlier this month, the group criticized the company for emailing an invitation to the event two days after Christmas without ever having met with them in person before or offered condolences.

“They can do whatever they want. I think it was pretty callous,” said Tom Teves, whose son, Alex, was killed.

The mother of Jessica Ghawi, a 24-year-old aspiring sportscaster who was killed, also isn't going to the theater's reopening and doubts she'll ever go to any movie theater again.

As a businesswoman, Sandy Phillips, of San Antonio, Texas, said she understands the practicality of reopening it, but she wishes Cinemark would have asked families about how what their plans were for the theater and how they would have liked their relatives to be honored.

“They could have avoided a lot of ill feeling,” she said.

Building plans filed with the city call for turning the theater into one of the company's “extreme digital cinema” sites that feature massive screens. It's not clear from the plans whether there will be a memorial to the victims.

Denver's Roman Catholic archbishop, Samuel J. Aquila, said he would attend the reopening because he was invited to pray with the community. But in an opinion piece in The Denver Post, he said was concerned about violence in movies, video games and TV shows.

“We cannot pretend that the impact of media has not contributed to the kind of violent behavior which is becoming commonplace in America,” Aquila wrote. “Young men, raised on a brutality in Halo, ‘Breaking Bad,’ and the Batman trilogy are engaging in the kind of brutality they're consuming.”

The orange, purple and teal neon lights that lit the sky the night of the shooting at the former Century 16 — now the Century Aurora — have been replaced. On the walls, a mural depicts a man and woman, a film reel, and popcorn.

A fence erected to block the ground-level view of the theater days after the shooting was removed Thursday morning as workers finished last-minute preparations.

Before Cinemark spent a reported $1 million on renovations, it allowed victims and families to visit the theater's auditorium No. 9, where the attack occurred. At least two people who escaped the shooting called it a good idea.

“It does help significantly,” said Jacqueline Keaumey Lader, a U.S. Marine and Iraq war veteran who visited the auditorium last fall with her husband, Don. “It's taken the power away from the place.”

Michael White Sr.'s son, Michael Jr., suffered a punctured lung and a broken rib and shoulder blade. He ultimately decided to stay away from the cinema.

“With me, it's like going to a cemetery and walking across somebody's grave,” the older White said. “I think it's disrespectful to do that.”

Mayor Hogan noted that the community grieves and heals in different ways.

“For those who don't want to be there, who can't be there, I understand and respect that,” he said. “For us here, the larger community if you will, it is part of the healing process.”



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