AURORA, Colo. (AP) — 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 of those who lost loved ones in the massacre.
Theater owner Cinemark plans to temporarily reopen the entire 16-screen complex in Aurora to the public 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 neurology 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 refused 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 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 refused an invitation to attend Thursday's event.
"The community wants the theater back and by God, it's back," said Tom Sullivan, whose son, Alex Sullivan, 27, 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."
Alex Sullivan's widow, Cassandra Sullivan, joined 15 relatives of victims in issuing a recent statement that called the Cinemark invitation "disgusting and insensitive."
"They can do whatever they want. I think it was pretty callous," said Tom Teves, whose son, Alex, was killed.
The orange, purple and teal neon lights that lit the sky the night of July 20 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.
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."