POSTED: Friday, January 18, 2013 - 4:14am
UPDATED: Friday, January 18, 2013 - 11:28am
The Colorado movie theater where a shocking gun rampage in July killed 12 people and wounded 58 others reopened Thursday despite criticism from the families of some of the victims.
A night of remembrance was held at the Aurora Century 16 cinema complex in the theater next to the one where James Holmes, a 25-year-old former doctoral student in neuroscience, is alleged to have carried out the terrifying shooting spree.
In an effort to offer support, elected officials and community members joined victims and their relatives at the ceremony, which was followed by a screening of "The Hobbit." They also acknowledged that the decision to reopen the movie theater remained controversial.
Earlier this month, the relatives of nine people killed in the attack said the invitation to the remembrance event was "disgusting" and "wholly offensive to the memory of our loved ones."
They criticized the timing of the invitation, two days after Christmas, and called it a publicity ploy by Cinemark USA, which runs the movie theater.
"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 family members wrote in a letter to the theater chain's management that they shared with CNN.
Local officials, though, described the re-opening Thursday as a positive step for the community.
Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan said it was "part of the recovery process," and that he had attended the event because he could not "allow the shooter in any way, shape, or form to win."
"We heard overwhelming support from the people of Aurora to reopen it and restore its place as a valued part of our community," Hogan said. "Many still suffer or grieve, and we will continue to support all of them in whatever way we can for as long as they need it."
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper echoed Hogan's sentiments.
"Everyone heals, some slower, some in different ways, some wanted this theater to reopen, some didn't," Hickenlooper said. "For many here tonight, this is the path to healing and part of that process. For everyone here, I think I speak for the entire state that we remain here for you, for the entire community of Aurora. Colorado is with you."
Some of the victims of the shooting who attended the event said they drew strength from it.
"I feel like I'm a different person for coming, and that brings about some healing," said Marcus Weaver, who was shot in the arm in the attack. "And just like with my arm, it's going to take some time to heal."
Tim Warner, the chief executive officer of Cinemark, which is facing lawsuits from several victims' families and survivors, praised the city for its resilience and thanked the first responders who assisted the victims.
"Recovery is an ongoing process, and we are glad to be with you tonight to acknowledge how far we have to come and how far we have yet to go," he said.
Cinemark has switched the way it identifies the different theaters at the Aurora Century 16 from numbers to letters. Theater 9, where the shooting happened, is now officially known as Theater I.
The remembrance ceremony, which started and finished with a prayer, took place as courts deal with the consequences of the attack.
Holmes is awaiting formal arraignment for 166 charges -- including murder, attempted murder and weapons offenses -- related to the July 20 rampage, which took place during a screening of "Batman: The Dark Knight Rises."
And 14 people have recently filed legal documents indicating they are planning to sue Dr. Lynne Fenton, the psychiatrist who treated Holmes, and the University of Colorado Denver, where she worked, for negligence.
Jacque Montgomery, a university spokeswoman, said university officials are aware of the pending lawsuits.
"We understand that there is pain and frustration amongst the families of the deceased and victims of this terrible crime, and we have great sympathy for them," Montgomery said in a statement. "We do believe, as well, that the facts will speak for themselves as the legal process moves forward."