AURORA, Colo. — The movie theater where a gunman opened fire during the midnight premiere of the latest “Batman” film in July reopened Thursday evening with a private ceremony.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan spoke at the memorial event hosted by Cinemark, the theater’s owner. Also in attendance were victims, family members, emergency responders, and others who share a connection to the July 20 shooting that left 12 dead and 70 injured.
But some victims and relatives refused to attend the ceremony. Family members of nine victims wrote a scathing letter to Cinemark earlier this month rejecting the invitation and blasting the Texas-based company for insensitivity.
But others say it’s time to take the next step. An online poll done by Cinemark in August found that nearly 75 percent of respondents wanting the theater to reopen.
“Clearly, not everyone scarred by what happened wanted to be here,” Mr. Hogan said 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.”
Survivors have filed at least a half-dozen lawsuits accusing Cinemark of negligence. One widow has sued the University of Colorado psychiatrist who treated the gunman, and lawyers representing 14 moviegoers have filed notices saying they may sue the university or the psychiatrist.
Nancy Lewis, executive director of the Colorado Organization for Victims Assistance, said that victims’ opinions on what should happen to the theater run the gamut from having it reopen to tearing it down. About 1,700 people were either in the 16-screen complex 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,” Ms. Lewis said.
Cinemark Holdings Co. has sunk an estimated $1 million into renovations, including a new facade, seats and carpeting. The individual 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 venue also has a new name: Century Aurora, which replaces the former name, Century 16 Aurora.
Cinemark also is offering free screenings during the opening weekend, which runs Friday through Sunday. The theater isn’t slated to be fully operational until Jan. 25.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and loved ones, our employees and the entire Aurora community,” Cinemark said in an online statement.
Survivors and relatives had a chance to tour the theater this week. They held a prayer vigil Wednesday night outside the theater, Ms. Lewis said.
The alternative Denver weekly Westword reported that the opening weekend’s playlist includes shoot-‘em-up fare in “The Bourne Legacy,” “Red Dawn” and “Taken 2.” The deadly July shooting occurred during the midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises,” a Batman movie with no shortage of violent action.
The suspect, James Eagan Holmes, has been charged with multiple counts of murder and attempted murder. His arraignment is set for March 12.
Reopening the theater doesn’t mean that the community is finished dealing with the tragedy, Mr. Hogan said.
“We’re not finished yet,” he said. “We won’t be finished for years to come, but we’ve got to move forward, we’ve got to be strong and we’ve got to come out the other side better than we went in.”