AURORA, Colo. — What used to be known as the Century 16 theaters in Aurora is back open for business Thursday for the first time since a gunman opened fire in a packed movie theater almost six months ago.
The theater’s owner, Cinemark, spent more than $1 million renovating the site where 12 people were killed and another 70 were hurt on opening night for the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises July 20.
Theater 9, where the shooting spree took place, is now an X-D digital auditorium. Theater 8, where some people were wounded by bullets that came through the walls, is called Auditorium H.
Gone are the haunting brightly colored neon lights on the outside of the building. A new mural is on the theater’s big sign. The new name of the facility is Century Aurora.
Thursday is an evening of remembrance for victims of the terrible crimes that happened there.
It was an invitation-only private event for victims, families, first responders, officials and volunteers. 1,600 tickets were distributed. A screening of The Hobbit followed speeches which began at 6 p.m.
“I see resilience. I see strength. I see heroes. I see healing. And I see hope,” says Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan. “We as a community have not been defeated. We are a community of survivors, and we are a community that is united in our recovery.”
“We hope that we are an example of light. We hope that our collective efforts continue to make this community stronger,” says Cinemark CEO Tim Warner.
Gov. John Hickenlooper also spoke to those in attendance. “This is the path to healing and part of that process. You know, the ability to find light where there was darkness, the opportunity to push toward finding joy and happiness … making sure that you don’t allow evil to trump good.”
Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila delivered the closing prayer at the ceremony. “Many of you, here tonight, have lost someone you love dearly. Some of you stood in this theater, in the shadow of death, in the darkness and chaos of evil. All of us, in some small way, suffered in your suffering.”
The event was not attended by some people who lost loved ones in the shooting. They say the company has been unresponsive to their needs. They refer to the theater site as “the killing field of our children.”
Victims have filed at least three federal lawsuits against Cinemark alleging the company should have provided security for the movie premiere. The company says the tragedy was “unforeseeable and random.”
“I can understand why a lot of people wouldn’t want to come tonight, but for me, I kind of see it as a sense of closure,” says Adam Witt, who escaped from Theater 9 along with his wife when the shooting began.
Marcus Weaver also escaped, but he was shot. His girlfriend, Rebecca Wingo, did not survive. Weaver hopes it brings some closure.
“It’s kind of paying respect to her by going. We went to the movie together and just, you know, I still think about her. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about her,” Weaver says.
For many families who lost loved ones in the shooting the invitation to attend Thursday night’s remembrance and a movie was an insult.
Tom Teves’ son Alex was killed in Theater 9. “The only time they’ve [Cinemark] contacted us is when they wanted us to become basically a public relations, you know, prop so that they can feel better about opening the theater.”
Mayor Hogan says the city did surveys in the community and found an overwhelming desire to reopen the theaters. Discussions about what to do with the site also included tearing it down and building a memorial.
The theater complex opens to the general public Friday with free movies all weekend long.
Cinemark has not released what movies will be shown this weekend or any show times.