Victims lash out at Cinemark after invite to re-opening event

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AURORA | Relatives of several people killed in the Aurora theater shooting won’t attend the theater’s reopening this month and are calling the invitation “wholly offensive.”

In an angry  letter to Cinemark, Inc., the families of nine of the 12 people killed in the theater this week called the theater chain’s offer to attend the reopening Jan. 17 “disgusting” and said it was little more than a publicity stunt.

“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 said.

The outdoor theater lettering is no longer Oct. 23 at Century Aurora 16 theater. Plans for the redesigned theater call for major changes to theater 9, where 12 people were killed in the July 20 rampage. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

Several victims, including some who signed the Jan. 2 letter, have filed lawsuits against Cinemark accusing the Plano, Texas-based theater chain of having lax security the night of the shootings, which left 12 dead and 70 hurt.

Cinemark announced last fall that they were redesigning the Century Aurora 16 theater where the massacre occurred and would reopen it Jan. 17.

The families criticized the company for not previously reaching out to them to offer condolences and refusing to meet with them without lawyers.

Cinemark had no immediate comment.

The company announced last month that it would reopen the theater, a move that Aurora officials said has strong support in the community. Gov. John Hickenlooper plans to attend.

Plans filed with the city call for turning the theater into one of the company’s “extreme digital cinema” sites that feature massive screens. It’s not clear from the plans whether there will be a memorial to the victims.

The invitation was emailed to families by the Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance, which said the offer was being sent on behalf of Cinemark.

It arrived two days after Christmas as Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, the mother and stepfather of Jessica Ghawi, one of the 12 people killed, were housesitting in Denver.

They had left their home in San Antonio, Texas, on the advice of their grief counselor to avoid being where they typically would have celebrated Christmas with Jessica. Sandy Phillips said they picked Denver on purpose because her daughter, a 24-year-old aspiring sportscaster, had been happy there.

The Phillipses said the invitation could be a public relations ploy to help show the public that some victims or their families are willing to attend the theater reopening.

“It was a killing field. It was a place of carnage and they’ve not once told us what their plans are for the theater other than that they’re reopening it,” said Sandy Phillips. She would like the theater where her daughter was killed to be demolished, though she acknowledged that it was unrealistic to expect Cinemark to give up the rest of the building.

 

The Associated Press contributed to this story.