Mov­ing be­yond, some­what

The Aurora movie theater has been re­mod­eled, but tragedy lingers

Los Angeles Times - - NEWS - By Maria L. La Ganga maria. la­ganga @ latimes. com @ mar­i­ala­ganga

AURORA, Colo. — Gun­shots rang out in the au­di­to­rium for­merly known as Theater 9. And screams. More weapons blasted. But on this balmy Fri­day night, when the doors swung open, there were no bod­ies, no blood, no shooter, no hor­ror.

Just a small, happy crowd leav­ing the latest sum­mer block­buster, peel­ing off 3- D glasses and chat­ter­ing about the pre­his­toric vil­lains of “Juras­sic World,” fic­tional mon­sters that stayed on the big screen where they be­longed.

On July 20, 2012, at a mid­night show­ing of another sum­mer block­buster, “The Dark Knight Rises,” James E. Holmes burst into Theater 9, swathed in black pro­tec­tive gear, loaded with am­mu­ni­tion, guns at the ready. The plan: to kill as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble. The rea­son: to make him feel bet­ter.

Holmes slaugh­tered 12 movie­go­ers and wounded 70 oth­ers that night. Most who sur­vived have tes­ti­fied against him over the last two months in a lengthy trial that could send him to Colorado’s death cham­ber. He ac­knowl­edges that he planned and car­ried out the rampage but pleaded not guilty by rea­son of in­san­ity.

The theater has since been re­mod­eled, but mem­o­ries of the mass shoot­ing, one of the worst in Amer­i­can history, are never far away.

“It’s like ev­ery time we come see a movie, we have to watch our back,” said Marychris Sept, 17, who was try­ing to de­cide be­tween “Juras­sic World” and “In­side Out.” “It feels like it could hap­pen again.”

Hours ear­lier, the pros­e­cu­tion rested its case against Holmes in Di­vi­sion 201 of the Ara­pa­hoe County Jus­tice Cen­ter. This week, de­fense at­tor­neys be­gan pre­sent­ing ev­i­dence to prove why the gun­man, who is now 27, should not be found guilty of 166 charges and die by lethal in­jec­tion.

A scale model of Theater 9 has been parked be­tween the wit­ness stand and the jury box in Di­vi­sion 201. Its 421 blue seats are pocked with white, the pale mark­ers show­ing where bul­lets tore through peo­ple and fab­ric. Wit­nesses to the car­nage have used the model while tes­ti­fy­ing to show jurors where they were sit­ting when their lives were for­ever al­tered.

For the most part, changes to the mul­ti­plex in this Den­ver sub­urb seem largely cos­metic. The theater’s foot­print and lay­out re­main the same. A sin­gle word was added to its name when the movie house re­opened six months af­ter the shoot­ing; the for­mer Cen­tury 16 is now the Cen­tury Aurora 16.

The au­di­to­ri­ums are now known by letters in­stead of num­bers; Theater 1 be­came House A. The neon fa­cade has been re­placed by a muted mu­ral of a film reel, a big screen and pop­corn.

Theater 9 has been trans­formed into an XD venue, also known as Ex­treme Dig­i­tal Cin­ema. Its big­ger screen has re­duced the num­ber of avail­able seats to 354, all new. Eight days ago, fewer than half of them were full.

If you did not know which au­di­to­rium was shot up dur­ing Holmes’ rampage, you would be hard­pressed to find out from any­one work­ing here. Ask a ticket taker and the squishy re­ply will be some ver­sion of: “Theater 9? I don’t know. I just started here.”

Spend too much time talk­ing to pa­trons in the vast park­ing lot, and a neatly suited man­ager will ask you to stop with a gen­tle ex­pla­na­tion: “It’s a sen­si­tive is­sue.”

Twenty fed­eral law­suits rep­re­sent­ing 40 vic­tims or fam­ily mem­bers have been filed against Cine­mark, the theater’s par­ent com­pany. The cases have been con­sol­i­dated, and the civil trial is set to be­gin July 11, 2016. The com­pany, which did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment, has also been sued in state court.

Cine­mark tried to get the fed­eral case thrown out, but in Au­gust, U. S. Dis­trict Judge R. Brooke Jack­son ruled that the trial should con­tinue. In his de­ci­sion, Jack­son sum­ma­rized what is at is­sue in two suc­cinct sen­tences:

“Plain­tiffs’ con­tention is that the in­juries and deaths could have been pre­vented had the de­fen­dants taken rea­son­able steps to pro­vide se­cu­rity for the theater on that evening,” Jack­son wrote. “De­fen­dants’ re­sponse is that the shoot­ings, which were care­fully planned and car­ried out, were so un­prece­dented as to be legally un­fore­see­able.”

Christina M. Habas and Michael Keat­ing rep­re­sent about half the vic­tims and sur­vivors who have sued Cine­mark.

But Habas, a for­mer Colorado state judge, has an even closer re­la­tion­ship to the shoot­ing.

She coaches the mock trial team at Aurora Cen­tral High School.

“A lot of my kids were in that theater” when Holmes be­gan shoot­ing, Habas said, and one texted her that night.

“A cou­ple of them are still very, very, very shaken up, but none were phys­i­cally in­jured,” said Habas, whose stu­dents were in Theater 9, where the ma­jor­ity of the car­nage oc­curred, and Theater 8, where bul­lets came through the walls and in­jured peo­ple in the au­di­ence.

“It touched a lot of peo­ple,” she said. “A hor­ri­ble, hor­ri­ble tragedy. It’s a big deal in that com­mu­nity.”

Still.

RJ San­gosti Den­ver Post

THE THEATER where James E. Holmes car­ried out his rampage has been re­vamped and re­named the Cen­tury Aurora 16. But one pa­tron said: “It’s like ev­ery time we come see a movie, we have to watch our back.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.