Families of Aurora victims reject theater promotion

The Colorado venue is reopening with a memorial for those killed in last summer's massacre. Relatives call the move a 'thinly veiled publicity ploy.'

By Bruce Kennedy Jan 3, 2013 1:05PM

File photo of people holding hands at a memorial across from the Century 16 theater on July 30, 2012 in Aurora, Colo. (Alex Brandon/AP Photo)Was it a sincere attempt to express sympathy or a tone-deaf public relations event that backfired?

Some relatives of those killed during last summer’s movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., are enraged at the theater's parent company -- and have organized a boycott against Cinemark USA (CNK).

What triggered this outrage, according to a letter by the families, was an invitation from the company inviting them and a guest "to a special evening of remembrance" later this month at the movie theater's reopening. A dozen people were killed and at least 58 others wounded on July 20, when a gunman opened fire during a midnight screening of the latest Batman film.

The invitation also reminded family members to reserve their tickets to the event.

"During the holiday we didn't think anyone or anything could make our grief worse but you, Cinemark, have managed to do just that," says the letter. "Thanks for making what is a very difficult holiday season that much more difficult. Timing is everything and yours is awful."

The letter says Cinemark, based in Texas, never reached out to the victims' loved ones after the tragedy, and refused repeated invitations to speak one on one with the families.

"Thank you for reminding us how your quest for profits has blinded your leadership and made you so callous as to be oblivious to our mental anguish," it continues. "We, the families, recognize your thinly veiled publicity ploy for what it is: A great opportunity for you to distance yourselves and divert public scrutiny from your culpability in this massacre.”

Apart from the apparent insensitivity of the Cinemark invitation, observers say, is pending litigation against the theater chain. Several lawsuits have been filed against Cinemark, on claims security at the Aurora movie theater was lax on the night of the shootings.

And that litigation "makes it very difficult for all parties to determine what is the right thing to do to express condolences and help with the healing," says Mac Clouse, professor of finance at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business.

"Unfortunately, I am sure that Cinemark’s responses and lack of responses have been completely choreographed by their legal people, both internal and external," he added. "Anything they say and do can potentially show up in any future legal proceedings."

Cinemark has not responded to the letter from the victims’ families.

The Denver Post says that, a month after the shootings, a survey by the city of Aurora found a majority of residents there wanted the theater to reopen -- with Aurora’s mayor calling the cinema "a valued part of our community."

While there may be some reluctance by local movie-goers to return to the site of the Aurora massacre, Clouse expects Cinemark's overall business will not be affected by the boycott. Cinemark is one of the largest movie theater chains in the U.S., with nearly 300 theaters and 4,000 screens in 39 states.

That being said, Clouse calls the Cinemark remembrance event a bad idea and its timing "awful."

"All of the families' sadness was reopened by [the recent school shootings in Connecticut], and this was the first Christmas without the loved ones," he said. "The boycott is understandable and is one of the things the families can do to express their feelings about Cinemark."

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