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Aurora multiplex offers victims' families private chance at closure

January 15, 2013|By Michael Muskal

The Century 16 logo that was so prominent in many photographs of grief has been replaced by a mural. But it will be more difficult to erase the memories that haunt the Aurora, Colo., movie theater that was the scene of so much carnage last summer.

After months of remodeling costing an estimated $1 million, the movie theater invaded by a gunman who killed 12 and wounded as many as 70 during a July 20 rampage, is set to reopen this week as officials try to bring back a sense of normality. Families of the victims are scheduled to begin touring the facility on Tuesday.

“This is closure,” Amanda Gonzalez told the Denver Post, her voice cracking with emotion. “We were so blessed to get out together that night. My kids want to see it [theater], so we'll all go back in together.”

Gonzalez and her children escaped without injuries from Theater 9 -- where the Batman movie “The Dark Knight Rises” was showing. She told the newspaper that she expected tears will fill her eyes when she enters the complex, renamed Century Aurora.

James E. Holmes, 25, is in custody and charged with 166 criminal counts in connection with the attack. The former neuroscience graduate student is scheduled to be arraigned March 12. His lawyers have said he is mentally ill.

It’s been about six months since the attack closed the theater, reportedly one of the most profitable in the Denver area. Aurora officials said a survey from August showed overwhelming community support for reopening the facility.

Cinemark, the owner, made significant changes, according to media reports. The purple hue and neon lights on the theater's towering facade have been replaced with a more somber swamp green. It has been turned into an “extreme digital” theater with wall-to-wall and ceiling-to-floor screens.

Cinemark, which has been the target of several lawsuits since the shooting, has repeatedly refused to comment publicly.

On Thursday, the multiplex will mark its official reopening during which Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan, Gov. John Hickenlooper and Cinemark Chief executive Tim Warner plan to make remarks. The city of Aurora expects to distribute nearly 2,000 tickets to victims, first responders, employees from several metro-area hospitals and volunteers.

 “This is about healing, hope for the future and thanking the literally hundreds of people on the front lines in the immediate aftermath of the shooting,” Mayor Hogan told the Denver Post.  “We're a community that's still working through this.”

Not everyone was eager to see the theater reopen. In January, 15 members of victims' families signed a letter to Cinemark saying they were especially angry that the invitations to the theater's reopening night were received so soon after the holidays.

“During the holiday we didn't think anyone or anything could make our grief worse but you, Cinemark, have managed to do just that by sending us an invitation two days after Christmas inviting us to attend the re-opening of your theater in Aurora where our loved ones were massacred. Thanks for making what is a very difficult holiday season that much more difficult. Timing is everything and yours is awful,” they wrote.

 “I will never tell anyone what is the right way or wrong way to grieve the loss of a loved one,” Tom Sullivan, the father of Alex Sullivan, one of those killed that morning, wrote in a column for The Denver Post expressing support for anyone else who does attend.

“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,” Sullivan wrote.

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