AURORA –The Aurora theater reopened quietly Thursday evening with a private remembrance ceremony even as those in attendance continued to wrestle with whether the doors should have remained closed.
Gov. John Hickenlooper acknowledged the doubts surrounding the reopening of the Aurora Century 16, now renamed the Century Aurora, at the private “Special Ceremony of Remembrance” hosted by Cinemark, the theater’s owner.
“Some wanted this theater reopened, some didn’t,” said Hickenlooper. “Certainly both answers are correct. There’s no right or wrong way about that healing. For many here tonight, this is the path to healing, and part of that process.”
The ceremony took place six months almost to the day after a gunman opened fire at a crowded midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises. Also attending the memorial were victims, relatives, emergency responders and others connected to the July 20 shooting that left 12 dead and 70 wounded.
Not everyone linked to the tragedy attended the ceremony. Relatives of nine of the people killed sent a scathing letter to Cinemark earlier this month rejecting the “disgusting” invitation and calling for others to boycott the event.
Others said it was time to move forward. Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan said the reopening of the theater was “part of that recovery process.”
“Clearly not everyone scarred by what happened wanted to be here,” said Hogan at the ceremony. “That is a valid choice and we will respect that choice. But everyone here made an equally valid choice, and my personal choice is to be here. I cannot allow the shooter in any way shape or form to win.”
Hogan said there was “overwhelming support from the people of the city of Aurora to reopen” the theater. An online survey conducted in August found that nearly 75 percent of respondents supported the reopening.
A half-dozen lawsuits alleging negligence have been filed against Cinemark since the shooting, but both the governor and mayor praised the Texas-based company for its quick response and assistance in the recovery.
“We appreciate Cinemark’s ongoing compassion for the victims and their families and the way in which they have cared for their own employees,” said Hogan. “Since that tragic day, Cinemark has steadfastly served as a partner as we planned for the future, and today we take another step forward.”
Cinemark president and CEO Tim Warner also spoke at the ceremony, thanking those who responded to the shooting and saying that “we hope our collective efforts will continue to make this community stronger.”
The governor singled out Warner for his dedication. “I don’t know of another CEO in a similar situation who would the moment he heard about it, get on a plane and come out here,” said Hickenlooper. “He didn’t send anyone here, he came out to see what he could do.”
Nancy Lewis, executive director of the Colorado Organization for Victims Assistance, said there was no unanimity among victims and relatives about whether to reopen or tear down the theater. She said about 1,700 people were either in the theater that night or had loved ones who were killed or injured.
“You have 1,700 people who were directly affected by this, and you’re going to have 1,700 viewpoints about what should be done,” said Ms. Lewis.
Cinemark has sunk an estimated $1 million into renovations, including a new facade, seats and carpeting. The 16 theaters are no longer identified by number: What was once Theater 9, the site of the worst carnage, is now called Auditorium H, according to KUSA-TV.
The theater is offering free showings for the weekend of Jan. 18-20. The theater is scheduled to be fully operational Jan. 25.
The suspected gunman, James Eagan Holmes, is slated to be arraigned at a hearing March 12. He has been charged with multiple counts of murder and attempted murder.