Local moviegoers keep victims in their minds

By Patty Hastings and Sue Vorenberg

Published:

 

A man wearing a gas mask and body armor entered the side door of a crowded Denver-area theater during a midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises," hurled a gas canister and opened fire, killing 12 people and wounding nearly 60 others in one of the deadliest mass shootings in recent U.S. history.

The shooting lead to increased security at theaters in major urban areas around the country, including Portland, where police added extra patrols. The Portland Police Bureau said there is no information to suggest a similar incident will occur in the city, but that anyone seeing suspicious activity around the movies should call 9-1-1.

No Clark County theaters have requested extra security.

"I don't know any movie theater in the county that I wouldn't feel comfortable going to," said Clark County Sheriff Office's Sgt. Randon Walker. "There's nothing wrong with our movie theaters."

In the past, movie theaters in Clark County have seen few problems aside from auto prowlers. These prowlers know moviegoers are leaving their cars unattended for a couple of hours and will break into cars for laptop computers, cellphones, purses, wallets or anything of value left in sight.

"We like to get through those parking lots as often as possible, especially during hours of darkness," Walker said.

He adds that people are responsible for their own safety, and should be safe at the theater if they just use good, common sense.

Regal Entertainment Group released a statement Friday addressing the shooting: "We are profoundly saddened by the tragedy that occurred at a Denver-area theatre and are concerned for the victims and their families. The security and safety of our guests and staff is always our number one priority. As is our custom, we will continue to monitor the situation and adjust our security needs as necessary. In the meantime, our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families."

The new Batman movie is playing in 4,404 theaters nationwide, including six theaters in Clark County: Regal Cascade Stadium 16, Cinetopia Mill Plain 8, Cinetopia Vancouver Mall 23, Regal Cinema 99 Stadium 11, Regal City Center Stadium 12 and the Battle Ground Cinema. There were 111 showings at these theaters Friday, including eight at midnight, and 316 show times scheduled for the entire opening weekend.

With no shortage of showings, moviegoers around Vancouver didn't let news of the tragedy interfere with their enjoyment of seeing one of the most highly anticipated films of the summer.

Dark Knight tickets were selling well Friday at Cinetopia Vancouver Mall 23, where the film is playing in digital super high definition, said Bryan Monahan, assistant manager. "The Dark Knight Rises" opened in theaters at midnight with an estimated $30.64 million in North America gross sales. That tops "The Avengers" opening night net of $18.7 million.

"It's been as good as we expected," Monahan said. "I've gotten, like, one call about the incident. It was a regrettable situation [in Colorado], but it was exclusive to that location."

Some people showed up in costume for the midnight opening of the film, which went off without a hitch, he added. While AMC Theaters, the second-largest movie chain in the U.S., banned costumes at its theaters following the Colorado shootings, there are no AMC theaters in the Vancouver area and no known costume bans.

"It was great to see so many fans," Monahan said. "The other nice thing here is, we constantly have security. Being in the mall, there are always people available."

Many people who went to see the film Friday in Vancouver said they weren't nervous about security issues, but they were struck by the severity of the tragedy in Colorado.

"You can't let other people's actions stop you from how you live your life," said Brian Small, after watching an early-afternoon showing at Cinetopia. "One idiot like that doesn't get to ruin it for everybody else."

Doug Shannon, who also saw an afternoon showing at Cinetopia, said he hopes people don't create a connection between the shootings and the film, which he enjoyed.

"The [Colorado] story itself was such a horrible tragedy and you can't help think about that," Shannon said. "But the movie was wonderful. It's the first time I've been to this cinema since it opened, and the big screens here are really terrific."

Rudyard Coltman, owner of the Vancouver-based Cinetopia chain, was not available for comment. He said on the business's Facebook page, "I want to express my deep sadness from the tragedy that occurred in Denver. All of us at Cinetopia are concerned for the victims and their families. We take the security and comfort of our guests and staff very seriously and always make it our top priority. We will continue to be vigilant with our security and adjust as necessary."

Visitors to the Regal Cascade Stadium 16 at 1101 S.E. 160th Ave. were equally determined to enjoy the show despite the tragedy.

Still, Beau Westover, clad in a bright yellow Batman shirt, said he was thinking of those who died.

"It's terrible, obviously," Westover said. "I'll probably always remember that I came to a movie that I was so excited to see, and on the same day something like that happened to others watching the same show. I don't know how somebody could be so coldhearted."

His sister, Caitlin Westover, went to Regal Cascade with him. She said she was horrified by the news but decided to go to the show anyway.

"I believe we live in a better, safer place," she said. "But I did have a family member ask me not to go. Still, I feel safe here. And our prayers and hopes go out to the families. My heart really goes out to them."

Sonny Burris, who went to a afternoon showing at Regal Cascade, said he was wondering what to expect when he turned up at the theater.

"I was surprised by how many empty seats there were, actually," Burris said. "But I'm not going to let something like this stop me from living my life."

Johnny Milstien, who flew into Portland from California on Friday morning for a motocross race, said he was very disturbed when he heard the news unfold over the morning.

"Me and my friends here, we thought, 'Let's go see it for all the people that got killed,'" Milstien said after watching the show at Regal Cascade with two friends. "We wanted to honor them and that's what made us decide to come."

Patty Hastings: 360-735-4513; http://twitter.com/col_cops;patty.hastings@columbian.com.