Colo. Theater Reopens, Months After Mass Shooting

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AURORA, Colo.
(AP) — One survivor had to pause on his way into the theater and pray.
Another braced for flashbacks as he entered the auditorium where 12
people died and dozens were injured during a massacre six months
earlier. Others refused to come, viewing the reopening of the multiplex
as insensitive.

The former Century 16, now
renovated and renamed the Century Aurora, opened its doors to victims of
the July 20 attack on Thursday night with a somber remembrance ceremony
and a special showing of “The Hobbit.”

Theater
9, where neuroscience graduate student James Holmes allegedly opened
fire on a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Returns,” is now an XD
theater with a wall-to-wall screen and stadium seating.

“We
as a community have not been defeated,” Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan told
victims, officials, and dozens of police officers and other first
responders who filled half the theater's seats at the ceremony.

“We are a community of survivors,” Hogan declared. “We will not let this tragedy define us.”

Pierce
O'Farrill, who was wounded three times in the shooting, made a point of
finding his old seat in the second row of the theater. “It was just a
part of closure, just going back to that spot where, obviously, I was in
the most pain I'd ever felt in in my life,” said O'Farrill, who was hit
three times and had to be carried out by the SWAT team, past the
shooter's discarded rifle.

Holmes is charged
with 166 felony counts, mostly murder and attempted murder for the
shooting. A judge has ordered him to stand trial, but he won't enter a
plea until March.

The reopening comes nearly
six months after the attack and a week after many victims sat through a
three-day hearing at which prosecutors described the attack in
excruciating detail

Several families boycotted
what they called a callous public relations ploy by the theater's
owner, Cinemark. They claimed the Texas-based company didn't ask them
what should happen to the theater. They said Cinemark emailed them an
invitation to Thursday's reopening just two days after they struggled
through Christmas without their loved ones.

“It
was boilerplate Hollywood – `Come to our movie screening,'” said Anita
Busch, whose cousin, 23-year-old college student Micayla Medek, died at
the theater.

Victims have filed at least three
federal lawsuits against Cinemark Holdings Inc., alleging it should
have provided security for the July 20 midnight showing of “The Dark
Knight Rises,” and that the 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.”

“We
certainly recognize all the different paths that people take to mourn,
the different paths that people take to recover from unimaginable,
incomprehensible loss,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said at the ceremony.

“Some wanted this theater to reopen. Some didn't. Certainly both answers are correct,” Hickenlooper said.

The governor credited Cinemark CEO Tim Warner for flying to Colorado after hearing about the shooting to see what he could do.

Warner
told attendees that the caring response to the tragedy by first
responders, the community and the world was a testament that good
triumphs over evil.

Samuel Aquila, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Denver, concluded the ceremony with a prayer for the dead and the living.

“All
of us in some small way suffered in your suffering,” Aquila told the
crowd. “The way of peace means rejecting the violence of that night.”

Cinemark
planned to offer free movies at the multiplex to the public over the
weekend, then permanently reopen it Jan. 25. Throughout the evening,
police officers and security guards turned away people who drove up
asking how they could get tickets to the upcoming free shows.

The decision to reopen even divided at least one victim's family.

Tom Sullivan, whose son, Alex, was killed, attended the event.

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

Alex's widow, Cassandra Sullivan, joined the boycott. So did Tom Teves, whose own son, Alex, also was killed.

“They can do whatever they want. I think it was pretty callous,” Teves said.

Adam
Witt, who was grazed in the shoulder during the attack, was expecting
flashbacks when he walked into the theater Thursday night. He and his
wife Tiffany were pleasantly surprised at how unfamiliar the renovated
space seemed.

“It was strange but oddly
reassuring,” said Tiffany Witt, 24. “The way it looks different — it
gives us the feeling that we're moving on from what happened.”

Marcus
Weaver struggled to keep his emotions under control as he walked
through the multiplex lobby. On July 20 he was shot in the arm and his
friend Rebecca Wingo was killed. Thursday night he had to stop and pray
before entering the theater.

He was glad he
did. Inside he saw the woman with whom he had shared a terrifying
ambulance ride on July 20, and another woman from his church whom he
hadn't even realized had been in the auditorium that night.

“There
was so much love in that room, it conquered all the ill feeling I had,”
said Weaver, 42, who wore a shirt bearing Wingo's name and image. “The
shooter, he can't win. This community is way stronger.”

 


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