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Theater reopens with memorial

Victims’ families boycott, criticize Colo. cinema

 Tom Sullivan (rear left), was among those at Thursday’s reopening of the Aurora, Colo., movie theater where 12 people were killed in a shooting rampage July 20, including Sullivan’s son, Alex. “Nobody is going to stop us from living our lives the way that we lived our lives before,” Tom Sullivan said.

RJ SANGOSTI, POOL/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Tom Sullivan (rear left), was among those at Thursday’s reopening of the Aurora, Colo., movie theater where 12 people were killed in a shooting rampage July 20, including Sullivan’s son, Alex. “Nobody is going to stop us from living our lives the way that we lived our lives before,” Tom Sullivan said.

AURORA, Colo. — The Colorado theater where 12 people were killed and dozens injured in a shooting rampage reopened Thursday with a remembrance ceremony and a private screening of ‘‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’’ for survivors — but for some Aurora victims, the pain is still too much, the idea too horrific.

Several families boycotted what they called a callous public relations ploy by the theater’s owner, Cinemark. They claimed the company didn’t ask them what should happen to the theater. They said Cinemark e-mailed them an invitation to Thursday’s reopening just two days after they struggled through Christmas.

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‘‘It was boilerplate Hollywood — ‘Come to our movie screening,’ ’’ said Anita Busch, whose cousin, Micayla Medek, 23, died at the theater.

But Pierce O’Farrill, who was wounded, returned to the theater Thursday and walked to the back door where he saw the gunman emerging.

‘‘The last time I saw [the gunman] was right here,’’ he said as he stood near the exit. ‘‘It’s important for me to come here and sit in the same seat that I was sitting in. It’s all part of the healing process, I guess.’’

James Holmes, a former neuroscience PhD student, is charged with 166 felony counts, mostly murder and attempted murder, in the July 20 shootings. A judge has ordered Holmes to stand trial, but he won’t enter a plea until March.

‘‘We as a community have not been defeated,’’ Mayor Steve Hogan said. ‘‘We will not let this tragedy define us.’’

Victims have filed at least three federal lawsuits against Cinemark Holdings Inc., alleging it should have provided security for the midnight showing of ‘‘The Dark Knight Rises,’’ and that an exit door used by the gunman to get his weapons and reenter should have had an alarm. In court papers, Cinemark says the tragedy was ‘‘unforeseeable and random.’’

‘‘We certainly recognize all the different paths that people take to mourn, the different paths that people take to recover from unimaginable, incomprehensible loss,’’ Governor John Hickenlooper said in a half-full theater.

‘‘Some wanted this theater to reopen. Some didn’t. Certainly both answers are correct,’’ Hickenlooper said.

Vanessa Ayala is a cousin of Jonathan Blunk, a 26-year-old Navy veteran and father of two who was killed. Ayala said she believed the multiplex should have been torn down and, perhaps, turned into a park. At the very least, she said, the auditorium where the shooting ­occurred should be a memorial.

The decision to reopen even divided at least one victim’s family.

Tom Sullivan, whose son, ­Alex, was killed, had long planned to attend the event, stressing the importance of healing and of reclaiming the theater from tragedy.

‘‘The community wants the theater back and by God, it’s back,’’ Sullivan said. ‘‘Nobody is going to stop us from living our lives the way that we lived our lives before. ’’

Alex’s widow, Cassandra Sullivan, joined the boycott, however. So did Tom Teves, whose own son, Alex, also was killed.

‘‘They can do whatever they want. I think it was pretty callous,’’ Teves said.

Cinemark reportedly spent $1 million on renovations. Cinemark planned to temporarily open the theater to the public Friday and offer free movies over the weekend. It will permanently reopen Jan. 25.

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