(Photo: REUTERS/Evan Semon)
When a senseless mass shooting occurred on July 20 at a Century theater in Aurora, Colo., during a midnight screening of the film "The Dark Knight Rises," there were no uniformed security guards on duty, police said.
Texas-based Cinemark, which operates the Aurora theater, would normally provide off-duty police guards Friday and Saturday nights, when the theater is crowded. But the theater did not have any working for that night, The Associated Press quoted Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates as saying.
Guards, who usually roam the complex and check bags or deal with minor disputes, could have possibly stopped the gunman, said Larry Lowak, whose son Brent was among the wounded. "If you bring in security on Friday or Saturday, you sure as hell want to bring it in for this particular function," Lowak stated.
The shooting that occurred in theater 9 at the Century 16 multiplex at the Town Center at the Aurora shopping mall killed 12 people and wounded 58 others.
Police said the gunman bought a ticket, entered the theater and then sat in the front row. About 20 minutes into the film, he left the theater through an emergency exit door, propping it open. He reached his car, parked near the exit door, re-entered through the same door carrying a military-style semi-automatic rifle, a shotgun and a pistol, and then opened fire on the unsuspecting theatergoers.
When AP contacted Cinemark, they declined to explain why guards weren't provided or discuss safety policies in general.
The newswire found that some places around the country used armed security for the July 19-20 Batman showings, including places like Beaumont, Texas; Lake Charles, La., and Tupelo, Miss. But some others, including the Aurora theater, did not. The theater does not have an unusually high record of complaints or crimes, police Sgt. Cassidee Carlson was quoted as saying.
The Cinemark in Aurora, like some other theaters, do not allow patrons to bring in their concealed weapons for personal protection. Some, like survivor's father Lowak, argue that if there were people with their licensed weapons, that could have lowered the death toll that night.
Others disagree. Hubert Williams, former head of the Newark police department and president of the Police Foundation, said this notion only makes sense "on a piece of paper." "Reality is much more complicated. What if you pull a gun out, take aim and someone else thinks you're the shooter?" he asked. "Would you stand up against an AR-15, AK-47 military-style assault weapon? Give me a break."
However, many theaters have increased security for all nights, and police have conducted extra patrols after the latest shooting incident. Experts believe that public venues are increasingly being secured, but it may not be possible to provide perfect safety at all times.
Meanwhile, prosecutors are expected to file formal charges against the sole suspect, James Eagan Holmes, on Monday.
Holmes, who was arrested soon after the shooting, said he was mimicking Batman's arch-enemy, the Joker. He is a graduate from the University of California, Riverside, and was a brilliant neuroscience student. His mother Arlene is a nurse and his father Robert a software company manager. He enrolled in a neuroscience Ph.D. program at the University of Colorado-Denver last year but quit in June.