Families divided as Colorado cinema reopens

Families divided as Colorado cinema reopens

The Colorado cinema where 12 people were killed and dozens injured in a shooting rampage nearly six months ago reopened with a remembrance ceremony and a private screening of the fantasy film 'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey' for survivors.

But for some victims, the pain was still too much, the idea too horrific.

Several families boycotted what they called a callous public relations ploy by the Aurora cinema's owner, Cinemark.

They claimed the Texas-based company did not ask them what should happen to the building and Cinemark emailed them an invitation to the 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, college student Micayla Medek, 23, died during the massacre.

But Pierce O'Farrill, who was wounded three times in the shooting, returned and immediately walked to the back door where he remembered the gunman emerging.

"The last time I saw (the gunman) was right here," he said as he stood near the exit door. "It's important for me to come here and sit in the same seat that I was sitting in. It's all part of the healing process, I guess."

James Holmes, a former neuroscience PhD student, is charged with 166 felony counts, mostly murder and attempted murder, over the July 20 shootings at the former Century 16 - now called the Century Aurora.

A judge has ordered Holmes to stand trial, but he will not enter a plea until March.

Dozens of first responders to the massacre joined survivors at the multiplex for the reopening ceremony.

"We as a community have not been defeated," Aurora mayor Steve Hogan said. "We are a community of survivors. We will not let this tragedy define us."

In addition to the Hobbit screening, theatre placards featured Trouble With the Curve, Cloud Atlas, and other films for the weekend.

Victims have filed at least three lawsuits against Cinemark Holdings, alleging it should have provided security for the midnight showing of the latest Batman film, 'The Dark Knight Rises', 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".

"We certainly recognise all the different paths that people take to mourn, the different paths that people take to recover from unimaginable, incomprehensible loss," Colorado governor John Hickenlooper said at the ceremony in a half-full cinema.

"Some wanted this theatre to reopen. Some didn't. Certainly both answers are correct.".

He praised Cinemark chief executive Tim Warner for flying to Colorado himself after hearing about the shooting to see what he could do.

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

But Vanessa Ayala, a cousin of Jonathan Blunk, a 26-year-old navy veteran and father of two who was killed, said she believed the multiplex should have been torn down and, perhaps, turned into a park.

At the very least, she said, the auditorium where the shooting occurred should be a memorial.

"It's not about letting the gunman win," Ms Ayala said. "He's already lost. He's lost everything he's going to be. He's a moron."

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

Tom Sullivan, whose son Alex was killed, had long planned to attend the event, stressing the importance of healing and of reclaiming the cinema from tragedy.

"The community wants the theatre back and by God, it's back," Mr 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."

Mr Sullivan said movies were a way for his family to come together, and that Alex was celebrating his 27th birthday when he was killed.

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

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

Sandy Phillips, a San Antonio, Texas, businesswoman, lost her daughter, Jessica Ghawi, 24, an aspiring sports presenter. She did not attending the ceremony.

Ms Phillips said Thursday she understood the practicality of reopening the cinema but wishes Cinemark had asked families about its plans and how they would like their relatives to be honoured.

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

Building plans called for turning theatre nine, where Holmes allegedly opened fire, into an "extreme digital cinema". It was not known if there would be a memorial.

Cinemark reportedly spent one million dollars on renovations. Before it did, it allowed survivors and families to visit theatre nine. Jacqueline Keaumey Lader, a US Marine and Iraq war veteran, did so.

"It does help significantly," she said. "It's taken the power away from the place."

Cinemark will temporarily open the cinema to the public today and offer free movies through the weekend. It will reopen permanently on January 25.

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