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Aurora shooting: Families of victims blast letter from Cinemark inviting them to reopening

This was not the holiday letter that families of the Aurora theater shooting victims wanted to receive.

Two days after Christmas, the families of those killed on July 20 received a letter inviting them to return to the site of the massacre for a Cinemark reopening event. They've since responded with a letter blasting the invite as a deeply insensitive marketing ploy, saying they will be encouraging a boycott.

On July 20 suspect James Holmes, who was in court today, allegedly entered the Aurora Century 16 theater and opened fire, killing twelve and injuring dozens more. Since the tragedy, Cinemark, the owner of the theater, has faced lawsuits from injured victims arguing that the company could have taken precautions against the crime.

Aurora families at their first press conference this past summer.
Aurora families at their first press conference this past summer.
Sam Levin

Cinemark has been in contact with the victims and their families before, working through the Arapahoe County District Attorney's office, letting them know that the company was open to the possibility of having them visit the site if they wanted to. Cinemark had announced in September that it planned to reopen the theater; the date has since been set for January 17.

And now Cinemark is formally inviting the families to return to the theater for some kind of "remembrance" event timed with the Century 16 reopening. Sent on December 27, the invite reached the families via the Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance, a group that has come under fire for its role in the process of disbursing donations after the shooting. The invitation (which was forwarded to us by family members) was included in an e-mail from Nancy Lewis, COVA's executive director:

As you may be aware, the Century Aurora theater will be reopening in January, Cinemark, the owner of the theater, would like to invite you and a quest to a special evening of remembrance on Thursday, January 17 at 5 P.M. A movie will be shown following the remembrance ceremony.

Please reserve tickets for you and your guest by responding to this e-mail. E-mail your name and the name of you guest and your address to nansutton@aol.com by January 8, 2013. Your tickets will be mailed to you. Please let me know of any special seating or accessibility requirements you or your guest may have.

The e-mail also notes that counselors will be available to victims and their family members.

"I was horrified," says Sandy Phillips, the mother of Jessica Ghawi, one of the twelve who died on July 20. "I opened up the e-mail from COVA and [thought]...why would you even think we would want to attend the reopening of a theater where our children were murdered?"

She continues, "It was astounding to me...This is the organization for victim assistance -- they should be watching out for us, but instead they collaborated with Cinemark to do an invitation...thinking that we would want to come back to that place.... To me, it was just a PR ploy from Cinemark, to say, 'Oh, look we care so much!'"

Phillips and fourteen other family members signed onto a letter that they sent back to Cinemark, expressing their outrage.

Continue for more on the families' response to Cinemark.

 

The harshly worded note from the families says, in part:

To the Management of Cinemark USA, Inc.:

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.

You (Cinemark) has shown, and continues to show, ZERO compassion to the families of the victims whose loved ones were killed in their theater. You, Cinemark, have never once reached out to the families to offer condolences.

This disgusting offer that you'd "like to invite you and a guest to a special evening of remembrance on Thursday, January 17 at 5 PM" followed by the showing of a movie and then telling us to be sure "to reserve our tickets" is wholly offensive to the memory of our loved ones.


Our family members will never be on this earth with us again and a movie ticket and some token words from people who didn't care enough to reach out to us, nor respond when we reached out to them to talk, is appalling.

The letter, full version on view below, goes on to say that this is a "thinly veiled publicity ploy" and that the families will use "every social media tool" at their disposal to encourage people to boycott the "killing field" of their children.

The letter claims that Cinemark has also been unresponsive to their inquiries in the past -- which makes this invitation all the more insulting.

Families of the Aurora victims together for their first joint public appearance back in August.
Families of the Aurora victims together for their first joint public appearance back in August.
Sam Levin

"Like we'd really want to sit through a movie," says Phillips. "Are they going to show us The Dark Knight so we can see the whole thing?"

She adds, "Whoever is handling their PR should be fired.... This is insulting to the memory of our children, our loved ones."

Her husband, Lonnie Phillips, Ghawi's stepfather, says that the effort seems very commercial, which is partly why it is so hurtful.

"Obviously the theater is interested in rebuilding their image and using the victims to do it," he says. "We are letting them know how distasteful it was and to rethink what they are doing.... It is very disturbing."

Reached this morning, COVA's Lewis declined to comment citing the ongoing gag order. It appears that COVA, which has contact information for the families, was sending the message on Cinemark's behalf, and is not planning the remembrance event. (We've left a message with Cinemark and will update this post if we hear back from the company.)

Continue for the full invite and the families' full response.

 

Here's the entire e-mail from Lewis to the victims' families.

Subject: Theater Opening

As you may be aware, the Century Aurora theater will be reopening in January, Cinemark, the owner of the theater, would like to invite you and a quest to a special evening of remembrance on Thursday, January 17 at 5 P.M. A movie will be shown following the remembrance ceremony.

Please reserve tickets for you and your guest by responding to this e-mail. E-mail your name and the name of you guest and your address to nansutton@aol.com by January 8, 2013. Your tickets will be mailed to you. Please let me know of any special seating or accessibility requirements you or your guest may have.

We understand this may be a difficult time for you. Counselors will be available at the theater if you would like to speak to someone. If you have questions, please contact one of the following COVA advocates: Michelle@ColradoCrimeVictims.org or [phone number] Ami@ColradoCrimeVictims.org or [phone number] Darron@ColoradCrimeVictims.org or [phone number]

Nancy Lewis, Executive Director Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance

And here's the full response from the families in their letter to Cinemark.

To the Management of Cinemark USA, Inc.:

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.

You (Cinemark) has shown, and continues to show, ZERO compassion to the families of the victims whose loved ones were killed in their theater. You, Cinemark, have never once reached out to the families to offer condolences.

This disgusting offer that you'd "like to invite you and a guest to a special evening of remembrance on Thursday, January 17 at 5 PM" followed by the showing of a movie and then telling us to be sure "to reserve our tickets" is wholly offensive to the memory of our loved ones.

Our family members will never be on this earth with us again and a movie ticket and some token words from people who didn't care enough to reach out to us, nor respond when we reached out to them to talk, is appalling.

You (Cinemark) refused our repeated invitations to speak parent to parent with no lawyers involved. Instead, we get invited to attend a "special evening of remembrance" at the very theater where our loved ones lay dead on the floor for over 15 hours. We would give anything to wipe the carnage of that night out of our minds' eye. Thank you for reminding us how your quest for profits has blinded your leadership and made you so callous as to be oblivious to our mental anguish.

We, the families, recognize your thinly veiled publicity ploy for what it is: A great opportunity for you to distance yourselves and divert public scrutiny from your culpability in this massacre.

After reading our response to your ridiculously offensive invitation, you now know why we will not be attending your re-opening celebration and will be using every social media tool at our disposal to ask the other victims to ask their friends and family to honor us by boycotting the killing field of our children.

The Families of the Aurora Cinemark Theatre Massacre

Thomas Teves (father of Alex Teves) Caren Teves (mother of Alex Teves) Sandy Phillips (mother of Jessica Ghawi) Lonnie Phillips (stepfather of Jessica Ghawi) Jerri Jackson (mother of Matt McQuinn) Greg Medek (father of Micayla Medek) Rena Medek (mother of Micayla Medek) Anita Busch (cousin of Greg and Micayla Medek) Robert Wingo, (father of Rebecca Ann Wingo's two children) Scott Larimer (father of John Larimer) Kathleen Larimer (mother of John Larimer) Jessica Watts (cousin of Jonathan Blunk) Robert Sullivan (grandfather of Veronica Moser-Sullivan) Sue Sullivan (grandmother of Veronica Moser-Sullivan) Cassandra Sullivan (widow of Alex Sullivan)

More from our Aurora theater shooting archive: "Photos: Aurora, Columbine families hold emotional conference urging gun reforms"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.


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