The smell of buttered popcorn drifted into the parking lot as survivors of the July 20 shooting that killed twelve people and injured seventy made their way last night toward the front doors of the remodeled Century 16 theater in Aurora for its official reopening. Inside, they were greeted by a new color scheme and cinema employees bearing free snacks. "It feels really light in here," said Destiny Dykes, who was there when a gunman opened fire.
Dykes was in auditorium 8 for the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises when the gunman entered adjacent auditorium 9, threw a can of tear gas and began shooting. An Aurora resident, Dykes said she thinks it's "absolutely fantastic" that the theater reopened. "It's a huge part of the Aurora community," she said. "There's no reason to shut it down.... I don't understand the negativity. I think it's a lot of misplaced anger."
The families of several people who lost their lives in the shooting were outraged by Cinemark's invitation to attend the reopening and called for a boycott. Fifteen family members signed a letter that reads, in part: "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."
But those who attended last night's ticketed event, including Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan, seemed to feel differently. In a remembrance ceremony marked by short speeches from clergy and politicians, Hogan said, "We are a community that is united in our recovery.
"The reopening of this theater is part of that recovery process," he added. "Not everyone scarred by what happened wanted to be here. That is a valid choice and we will respect that choice. But everyone here now also 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."
The speeches took place in the remodeled auditorium 9, now called the Extreme Digital Cinema. Most reporters were not allowed entry to the theater, but it reportedly features a floor-to-ceiling movie screen called XD, Cinemark's answer to IMAX. All of the theaters have been renamed; instead of numbers, they're called by letters. Similarly, the neon-lit number "16" on the theater facade has been replaced by a mural.
Tim Warner, Cinemark's CEO, also spoke. He called the shooting "a single terrible act of random, unpredictable violence" and praised the community's response, especially the paramedics, hospital staff and police officers, all of whom were invited to the event. "These acts are a testament that good always triumphs over evil," Warner said.
The most vivid words came from Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila, who closed the remembrance ceremony. "Some of you stood in this theater in the shadow of death, in the darkness and chaos of evil," he said. "We are here because the Lord desires to guide our feet into the way of peace. The way of peace means rejecting the violence of that night. It means giving to God our desire for vengeance, our hatred, our bitterness and our anger."
The speeches were simulcast in the other theaters, including auditorium 8, now renamed theater H. Afterward, at 7 p.m., Century 16 screened The Hobbit for free. The theater will show more free movies to the public this weekend, including violent films such as Taken 2 and The Bourne Legacy and family fare including Finding Nemo 3D.
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Back in the lobby, which was repainted in yellows, blues and greens, Aurora resident Megan Brushel said she's also happy to see the theater reopen. Her sister is a Cinemark employee and was working the night of the shooting. "Having it reopen will shed the negativity and bring light," Brushel said. "To me, it's kind of like a memorial."
Continue for more photos of the remodeled theater.
For more photos, visit out slide show of the Aurora Century's reopening.
More from our Aurora Theater Shooting archives: "Aurora Century 16 reopening: See changes made to ten other massacre sites."