AURORA, Colo. - The Colorado theater where 12 people were killed and dozens injured in a shooting rampage last year reopened Thursday with a somber remembrance ceremony and a screening of the latest "Hobbit" film for survivors - but the pain was too much, the idea too horrific, for many Aurora victims to attend.
"We as a community have not been defeated," Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan told victims, officials, and dozens of police officers and other first responders who filled half the theater's seats at the ceremony.
"We are a community of survivors," Hogan declared. "We will not let this tragedy define us."
Guests fill the lobby of the Century Aurora cinema, formerly the Century 16, for a reopening and remembrance ceremony Thursday, in Aurora, Colo. The theater is where 12 people were killed and dozens injured in a shooting rampage last July.
Pierce O'Farrill, who was wounded three times in the shooting, said: "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."
O'Farrill walked to an exit door inside the theater where he remembers the shooter emerging. "The last time I saw (the gunman) was right here," he said.
James Holmes, a former neuroscience Ph.D. student, is charged with 166 felony counts, mostly murder and attempted murder, in the July 20 shooting at the former Century 16 - now called the Century Aurora. A judge has ordered Holmes to stand trial, but he won't enter a plea until March.
Several families boycotted what they called a callous public relations ploy by the theater's owner, Cinemark. They claimed the Texas-based company didn't ask them what should happen to the theater. They said Cinemark emailed them an invitation to Thursday's reopening just two days after they struggled through Christmas without their loved ones.
"It was boilerplate Hollywood - 'Come to our movie screening,'" said Anita Busch, whose cousin, 23-year-old college student Micayla Medek, died at the theater.
The remembrance was followed by a private screening in the former theater nine of the fantasy film "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey."
Victims have filed at least three federal lawsuits against Cinemark Holdings Inc., alleging it should have provided security for the July 20 midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises," and that the exit door used by the gunman to get his weapons and re-enter 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," Gov. John Hickenlooper said at the ceremony.
"Some wanted this theater to reopen. Some didn't. Certainly both answers are correct," Hickenlooper said.
The governor credited Cinemark CEO Tim Warner for flying to Colorado after hearing about the shooting to see what he could do.
Warner told attendees that the caring response to the tragedy by first responders, the community and the world was a testament that good triumphs over evil.