Cinema reopening divides Batman massacre victims

01:40, Jan 18 2013
Christian Bale
Christian Bale and his wife Sibi Blazic visit a memorial created for the victims of a shooting that occured at a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado.

The US cinema where 12 people were killed in a shooting rampage nearly six months ago is reopening with a remembrance ceremony and a private screening of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

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

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

They claimed the Texas-based company - which has been publicly silent since the July 20 shooting - didn't ask them what should happen to the theatre.

They said 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, 23-year-old college student Micayla Medek, died at the theatre.

Others, like Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan, said the event was part of the healing process and that many residents wanted to see the theatre back up and running.

James Holmes, a former neuroscience PhD student, is accused of opening fire during a midnight screening in Aurora, Colorado of last year's Batman movie on July 20.

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

In addition to the Hobbit screening, theatre placards featured Trouble With the Curve, Cloud Atlas, 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower and other films for the weekend.

Victims have filed at least three federal lawsuits against Cinemark, alleging it should have provided security for the The Dark Knight Rises screening, 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."

Hogan noted that the community grieves and heals in different ways but insisted that most Aurora residents wanted to reopen the theatre.

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

Vanessa Ayala is a cousin of Jonathan Blunk, a 26-year-old Navy veteran and father of two who was killed. Ayala 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," 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, planned to attend the event, stressing the importance of healing and of reclaiming the theatre from tragedy.

"The community wants the theatre 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."

Sullivan has said movies are 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. 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.

Sandy Phillips, a San Antonio, Texas, businesswoman, lost her daughter, 24-year-old Jessica Ghawi, an aspiring sports reporter. She wasn't attending the ceremony.

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

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

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

Cinemark reportedly spent US$1 million 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 planned to temporarily open the theatre to the public on Friday and offer free movies through the weekend. It will permanently reopen on January 25.