Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Free movie night at massacre site 'disgusting'

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DENVER -- Relatives of the majority of people killed in a Colorado movie theatre rejected an invitation on Wednesday to attend its reopening this month, calling it a "disgusting offer" that came at a terrible time -- right after the first Christmas without their loved ones.

The parents, grandparents, cousins and widow of nine of the 12 people killed said they were asked to attend an "evening of remembrance" followed by a movie when the Aurora theatre reopens on Jan. 17. They released a letter sent to the theatre's owner, Cinemark, in which they criticized the Plano, Texas-based company for not previously reaching out to them to offer condolences and refusing to meet with them without lawyers.

"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.

Cinemark had no immediate comment.

The company announced last month that it would reopen the theatre on Jan. 17 and invite people affected by the attack and other guests, a move that Aurora officials said has strong support in the community. Gov. John Hickenlooper plans to attend.

The Aurora Sentinel reported that plans filed with the city call for turning the theatre 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 house-sitting in Denver.

They had left their home in San Antonio, Texas on the advice of their grief counsellor 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 some victims or their families are willing to attend the theatre 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 theatre other than that they're reopening it," said Sandy Phillips. She would like the theatre where her daughter was killed to be demolished, though she acknowledged it was unrealistic to expect Cinemark to give up the rest of the building.

The families of some victims have sued Cinemark. The Phillipses have not decided whether they will sue.

Also Wednesday, prosecutors and defence lawyers said they are ready for a crucial hearing next week in which prosecutors will outline their case against James Holmes, who is charged with killing 12 people and wounding 70 during the midnight showing of the Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, on July 20.

The hearing starts Monday and is scheduled to run all week. At its conclusion, state District Judge William B. Sylvester will decide if the evidence is sufficient to put Holmes on trial.

The defence could waive the hearing but analysts said lawyers sometimes go ahead with the hearing to see how strong the prosecution's case is. It will be the first official time the public sees the evidence against Holmes.

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 3, 2013 A11

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