Guests fill the lobby of the Century Aurora cinema, formerly the Century… (RJ Sangosti, Denver Post )
AURORA, Colo. — A quiet crowd gathered Thursday at what is now Century Aurora for an "evening of remembrance." Young employees offered candy, sodas and popcorn to visitors who mingled inside the complex, which had been painted soft blues, greens and yellows.
The movie theater where a gunman killed 12 people and injured dozens more last July reopened under a new name after extensive remodeling. The governor, mayor, theater officials and a few hundred victims, families and community members attended, but relatives of several who died boycotted the event.
In one aisle, a young man comforted a young woman as she cried. A small room was set up with tables and tissues for those who might need a quiet space to grieve.
Corbin Dates, 23, who said he was in the second row of Theater 9 during the rampage and escaped with a small burn from a bullet casing, called the event empowering.
"Evil doesn't have the best of me and it never will," he said.
But Scott Larimer, whose son John Larimer, 27, was killed, did not come. He was among those who called for a boycott after receiving a brief email shortly after Christmas inviting him to the ceremony and to an unspecified movie.
"They were treating it like I lost my raincoat there and not my son," he said. "I'm not sure if they're just trying to drum up support so they can just reopen their theater and make some money, or what it is."
The fate of the Century 16 theaters was the subject of much debate in the aftermath of one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history, for which James E. Holmes, 25, has been ordered to stand trial. City officials launched an online survey to gauge public opinion and said the response was overwhelming in favor of reopening.
But earlier this month, 15 family members of nine people killed wrote a letter to Cinemark, the theater's owner, blasting the invitation to the opening and criticizing the company for showing "ZERO compassion to the families of the victims whose loved ones were killed in their theater."
One of them, Jerri Jackson, said Cinemark had never contacted her before she received the invitation, which was sent by a victims' group on Cinemark's behalf.
"I would have thought early on that they would have contacted us and offered their condolences, tried to do something for the families, but they've done nothing," she said. Her son Matt McQuinn, 27, was among the dead.
Some who came to the ceremony had a different perspective.
"We will not let this tragedy define us," Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan said during the 30-minute remembrance. "Aurora is strong, Aurora is caring, and our focus remains on the road before us."
Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper acknowledged the families who were absent but praised Cinemark and its chief executive for working closely with the community in the aftermath of the shooting.
"Everyone heals. Some slower, some in different ways. Some wanted this theater open, some didn't," Hickenlooper said. "For many here tonight, this is the path to healing."
After the ceremony, everyone was invited to stay for a screening of "The Hobbit."
Tom Sullivan, whose son Alex Sullivan, 27, died, came to the remembrance. He and other family members spent several minutes exploring the complex before taking a seat for the ceremony. He sees the theater as part of his community, which supported him after the death of his son.
"The people of Aurora decided that's what they wanted," to reopen the theater. "So I decided, 'Well, that's what we'll do,'" he said. "The people of Aurora have done everything they can to help us through this very difficult time."