Fans, police and movie theater owners in Southern California respond to Colorado shooting

NBC San Diego

A high school photo of James Holmes (L), the man who allegedly opened fire on moviegoers at the midnight premiere of the Batman movie in Colorado, next to his college portrait.

The deadly shooting massacre at a Denver-area theater has left Los Angeles fans of the new Batman movie reeling.

Nearly 60 people were wounded and 12 were killed when a gunman fired shots inside an Aurora, Colo. movie theater during a midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises." The movie opened internationally Friday with midnight showings in the U.S.

Police arrested the alleged gunman, who has been identified as 24-year-old James Holmes. The suspect formerly lived in San Diego and has an undergraduate degree in neuroscience from UC Riverside.

In Pasadena, many Batman movie fans were troubled, yet undeterred by news of the shooting.

At early morning screenings at the ArcLight, a steady stream of movie-goers filed into theaters. Some people told KPCC they had not heard about the shooting in Colorado. But others said they were aware of it and decided to see the movie anyway.

Brandon Shoop of Pasadena said his desire to see "The Dark Knight Rises" outweighed his fears of being targeted in a movie theater during a morning screening.

"You have to consider where you’re at, the time that you’re going to the show and generally how bad you want to see the movie," said Shoop.

College instructor Gabe Gomez said he rationalized that the incident in Colorado is an isolated occurrence.

"I'm also a teacher so unfortunately we've been a little bit overexposed and I'm in a classroom all the time and we hear all these stories about students (with weapons) coming into classrooms," Gomez said. "So I guess it's there in the back of my mind, but it would eliminate a lot of things that we do on a day-to-day basis."

As a result of the shooting Gomez said he would be a little bit more hesitant about attending a midnight screening because of the crowds and the intensity of the fans that are attracted.

Others wondered if movie theaters should abandon midnight screenings altogether. Film critic Anthony Lane raised that question in a piece on the New Yorker website after the shooting.

But clinical psychologist Stanton Samenow, author of "Inside the Criminal Mind," told KPCC's Larry Mantle that would be the wrong response.

"If we do that then we are hostage to them," Samenow said, "and remember, it’s a very tiny number of people like this fortunately, and our whole way of life becomes hostage to them."

Security has been increased at some theaters around the country in the wake of the shooting. Los Angeles Police sent officers early Friday to inspect theaters where "The Dark Knight Rises" was playing, but found no security threats. An LAPD spokesman told KPCC’s AirTalk that the department would have teams of uniformed and plainclothes officers at screenings throughout the city this weekend. The department said it will also have high-visibility patrols at sporting events, concerts and crowded venues for the immediate future.

In Washington, the Homeland Security Department held a conference call with officials from the commercial, entertainment and shopping mall industries. The Associated Press reports that the discussion focused on what security measures the industry could take to prevent something like this from happening again.

The National Association of Theater Owners released a statement that described the shooting as a "despicable act" and said its members are "working closely with local law enforcement agencies and reviewing security procedures."

AMC Theaters issued its own statement saying it will not allow movie-goers to wear costumes that make other customers feel uncomfortable. The theater chain will not permit face-covering masks or fake weapons inside its buildings either.

AMC says customers can exchange their movie tickets or get a refund if they wish.

Dallas-based Rave Cinemas is also allowing ticket refunds. A spokesman for the company says patrons can get their money back if they visit the box office prior to a movie’s showing.

Most theaters have what is considered to be "reasonable protection" according to Steve Layne, a security consultant for Layne Consultants International based in Denver.

Layne told KPCC's The Madeleine Brand Show that reasonable protection means the perimeter of the theater is secure and that there is some screening at the public entries of what people are bringing in to the theater. But Lane says screening is primarily to stop contraband food and beverages.

"It's more ticket-takers and ushers inspecting packages being brought in, or backpacks, which is done in some theaters, again primarily to stop people from bringing their own food in," said Lane. "So there really hasn't been any unusual or exorbitant protection for most movie theaters."

The shooting has ignited some discussions about whether metal detectors should be installed in movie theaters. Lane says again his firm advises people to consider what's reasonable for the circumstances.

"Reasonable protection means going back to the very basic security of making sure that all access doors are secure," said Lane. "Those doors should be secure, they really ought to be alarmed so if they're forced open or left open there's an indication given to management and they can respond to that."

The shooting cast a pall over the release of Warner Bros.' newest film, which was expected to be the biggest of the summer. The Paris premiere of "The Dark Knight Rises" was cancelled. And the studio has stopped running a trailer for another of its action films. That upcoming movie, "Gangster Squad," features a scene in which a 1930s mobster fires a machine gun through a movie screen into an audience.

In a statement Warner Bros. said the studio "is deeply saddened to learn about this shocking incident. We extend our sincere sympathies to the families and loved ones of the victims at this tragic time."

According to TheWrap.com, Warner Bros. is considering whether to cancel screenings across the country in the wake of the shooting. Sharon Waxman reported: “Executives at the Hollywood studio were gathered at the Burbank offices from the middle of the night, struggling with whether to alter roll-out plans for the second-biggest release in movie history." The film is scheduled in more than 4,400 screens around the country.

John Horn, who writes about film for the L.A. Times, says it's inevitable that "The Dark Knight Rises" and other summer movies will be hurt financially by the Colorado theater shooting.

"I don't want to reduce a very personal tragedy to a financial equation, but it's unavoidable that parents, primarily, will be very hesitant to send their children to movie theaters, and the summer box office is generally driven by older teens, then a lot of kids," said Horn. "If you do not feel safe in a movie theater, you are not going to see any movie, not just Dark Knight."

Details about the alleged shooter are emerging slowly. 24-year-old James Holmes graduated from Westview High School in San Diego. His parents live in Torrey Highlands, a San Diego neighborhood not far from the school.

Tom Mai, a next-door neighbor of the Holmes family, says he remembers Holmes as a shy teenager, kind of a loner, who did not play or socialize with neighborhood kids. He says he last saw Holmes two years ago.

In a statement, UC Riverside said Holmes graduated from that school in the spring of 2010 with a B.S. in neuroscience. He moved to Colorado last summer where he was pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Colorado-Denver. He was in the process of withdrawing from the program for unknown reasons.

Holmes' parents released a statement saying their "hearts go out to those who were involved in the tragedy." The statement went on to say that the family is cooperating with law enforcement and still trying to process what happened.

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