After the July shooting, Tom Sullivan, center, embraces family members… (Barry Gutierrez/Associated…)
HOUSTON--A new voice has been added to the debate about the reopening of the Colorado movie theater where a dozen people were killed July 20.
Tom Sullivan, father of shooting victim Alex Sullivan, 27, wrote a letter published in Friday's Denver Post addressed to “my neighbors and fellow moviegoers” about his determination to carry on and return to the theater where his son died.
“While this will be an extremely difficult time, if you truly knew my son Alex, you would know that he would want me to be there, if only to show that we will not allow anyone to take the joy we shared at theaters across the metro area away from us and help gather the Aurora community together,” Sullivan wrote.
He noted that the Sunday after the shooting, he spoke with Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan about the future of the Century 16 theater, owned by the Plano, Texas-based theater chain Cinemark.
“Hogan told me it was not a decision that he would make, but it would be decided by the people of Aurora,” Sullivan wrote. “The decision to reopen the theater and hold this night of remembrance was something that the Aurora community asked for, and will be the first step in gathering and rebuilding the Aurora community.”
Sullivan could not be reached Friday. His daughter, Megan Sullivan, said the family was not doing interviews.
Hogan, who is expected to attend the theater reopening Jan. 17 along with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, was out of the office and did not return email Friday. He wrote a letter to Cinemark in September urging them to reopen, and the company reponded, later promising a reopening and free movies from Jan. 18 to 20.
[Updated 11:30 a.m. Jan. 7: Hogan responded late Friday and said he saw Sullivan’s article and thought it was “very touching.” Hogan also confirmed that he will be attending the opening and will be part of the remembrance.]
A Cinemark spokeswoman on Friday said the company declined to comment about Sullivan’s letter and the previous letter from the victims’ families.
The theater complex, located next to a suburban Denver shopping mall, has been closed since the shooting that injured at least 70 people. Accused shooter James E. Holmes is scheduled to appear in court next week for a preliminary hearing.
On Wednesday, 15 victims’ relatives -- including Alex Sullivan’s widow, Cassandra -- sent a critical letter to Cinemark, deriding the reopening as “disgusting,” discouraging others from attending and warning of possible boycotts.
It’s not clear how many plan to attend the theater reopening. On a Facebook page devoted to remembering Alex Sullivan, who had worked at a local restaurant, some remained divided about attending.
“I try to think what Alex would want his friends and family to do,” wrote Stephanie Hurd of Aurora. “Thinking about going near the theater makes me sad so I stay away. Even going to work some days makes me sad. I just think about Sully dancing behind the bar and I start to laugh. I hope the ceremony will bring some closer to the family.”
In his open letter to the community, Tom Sullivan sent a very different message. Cautioning that he was not trying to tell others how to grieve, he also said he felt a duty to return to the theater where his son, a newlywed and movie buff who had worked at Century 16, went to celebrate his 27th birthday.
“If I can help just one person though the difficult experience of walking into this theater or any theater, then it will be an effort I have to make,” Sullivan wrote. “I ask all to join me, if you can, into a future not as bright as the future would have been had our loved ones been there with us, but a future nonetheless. The seat next to me will be saved for Alex, but I'll have an extra hand if you need something to hold on to.”