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Colorado theater to reopen — but father of one shooting victim won’t be there

This US Navy  phoobtained July 24 2012 shows Petty Officer Third Class John T. Larimer 27 Crystal Lake Ilinois

This US Navy photo obtained July 24, 2012 shows Petty Officer Third Class John T. Larimer, 27, of Crystal Lake, Ilinois, as seen here in his recruit training picture provided by his family. Petty Officer Larimer was attached to a unit that belongs to US Fleet Cyber Command/US Tenth Fleet, located at Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado and was one of 12 people killed in the July 20, 2012 shooting at Century Cinema during a midnight screening in Aurora, Colorado. = RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT " AFP PHOTO / US NAVY/RELEASED/" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS =HO/AFP/GettyImages

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Updated: February 17, 2013 6:37AM

The Colorado movie theater where 12 people were shot to death six months ago will reopen this week after a ceremony to pay homage — some would say lip service — to the victims and their families.

Scott Larimer of Crystal Lake, whose 27-year-old son, John Thomas Larimer, was among those slain, does not intend to allow himself to be used as just another prop in a Grand Re-Opening Ceremony.

Larimer and family members of seven others slain in the Aurora, Colo., theater on July 20 say they are boycotting an “evening of remembrance” planned for this Thursday, as if any of them could ever forget what happened there.

Larimer said it’s as though victims’ families have been invited only to show the public: “Look, everything is okay. Then we’ll go back to selling popcorn and movie tickets.”

And even at that, the impersonal invitation had the feel of an afterthought.

“The way they reached out to us struck me as kind of cold. I didn’t lose a raincoat in their store; I lost my son,” Larimer, 63, told me by phone Tuesday after airing his concerns on CNN.

Larimer said he and other families of the dead never heard a word from Cinemark, owners of the Century 16 theaters where the shootings took place, until an email arrived Dec. 27.

The email was actually from the Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance, extending an invitation on behalf of Cinemark to Thursday’s “remembrance ceremony” — no details provided.

“Please reserve tickets for you and your guest by responding to this email,” the letter stated, showing no awareness that at least half of the affected families of the 12 who died are from out-of-state.

John Thomas Larimer, a Navy cryptologist, had been stationed at Fort Buckley in Aurora for less than a year before his death.

Remember, even as the Larimers received cards and letters from hundreds of strangers around the country expressing their sympathies, there were no condolences from Cinemark.

That’s not to suggest the theater is responsible for the actions of the madman who pulled the trigger. But that doesn’t relieve them of the responsibility to show compassion. With lawsuits already pending, Cinemark’s lawyers have undoubtedly instructed company officials to have no contact with the families.

The Larimers have yet to make a decision on whether they will join any legal action — and even disagree among themselves over what should have been done with the theater.

“I’m not sure that it’s appropriate to tear it down,” Larimer said. “I’m not sure what they should do. I’d like to see the theater owner show more empathy for the families whose lives have been shattered.”

“I just know the way they are doing it isn’t right,” he added. “There has to be a more sympathetic, more caring way to reintroduce it to the public.”

I do not begrudge Colorado officials for their eagerness to heal the wounds and move on.

Nobody has the magic answer on when — or if — a public facility should re-open after one of these mass shootings. Virginia Tech waited two years. NIU waited four, the longer delay in part because of a lack of state funding. Now they’re debating what to do with Sandy Hook Elementary.

My instinct is to re-open these places after a respectful period — and in a respectful manner.

It appears dollar signs are a big part of the hurry in Colorado.

Cinemark has sunk quite a bit of money into remodeling the theater complex, henceforth to be known as the Century Aurora. It is no doubt eager to begin recouping that investment, as are Aurora municipal officials to resume collecting the tax revenue. That’s their business, and the public will vote with its pocketbook.

That doesn’t excuse them for serving up yet another indignity to these families who even had to shame Colorado officials to turn over charitable donations solicited by another group in the names of the victims.

This week’s reopening plans have the earmarks of being planned by a public relations agency that does crisis management — and a lousy job of it at that.

After the remembrance ceremony that Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is expected to attend, the theaters will open to the public starting Friday for several days of free movies — the planned offerings only slightly less violent than a typical weekend bill. Then on Jan. 25 it’s back to business as usual.

Larimer said he and his wife are planning to travel to Aurora next summer to visit their son’s old base. They don’t plan to take in a movie.

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