In August, a man armed with a hatchet and air pistol set off a canister of pepper spray in a crowded Nashville movie theater. He then stood up and began threatening movie patrons, inciting a panic. Racing through their minds, no doubt, were scenes from other recent attacks in American public spaces—the Aurora shooting, the Sandy Hook massacre, the Charleston church shooting—but things were different this time. Vincente David Montano, the man with the weapons, couldn’t manage to take anyone’s life that night. The incident was still tragic, as the deeply mentally ill Montano was gunned down by police, who saw his realistic airsoft pistol decided to take no chances.
In this case, the Nashville movie theater will continue on as though nothing had happened. After all, the event was terrifying and tragic, but isn’t wasn’t in the realm of the other recent mass shootings in recent memory.
And this year has seen plenty of mass shootings and gun violence. From the campus shootings in Oregon, to the church shooting in South Carolina, one thing is clear: mass shootings are on the rise in the United States. But have you ever wondered what becomes of the places mass shootings like these occur? Take the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, where James Eagan Holmes opened fire on a group of movie goers. Is it still open? How would you feel sitting down in the very same theater where 12 people were brutally murdered? Is it a safe assumption that places of business tainted by the indelible stain of innocent blood should call up the Chapter 13 bankruptcy attorneys?
The Aurora Century 16 Cinemark Theater, where the massacre took place, was temporarily shut down after the tragic incident. Some believe it should have remained closed, but Cinemark reopened the theatre six months later. In remembrance of the lives lost, the theater played a special 30 minute short film dedicated to the victims, survivors, and their families. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper was in attendance, along with Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan. The actual theater room where the victims died has been re-designed and renamed. Previously known as “Theater No. 9”, the infamous and eerie space is now called “Theater I”, and features completely new interior and “X-D” movie screen.
Not everybody was happy about the theater reopening. Relatives of eight of the shooting victims wrote to Cinemark, protesting their “disgusting” invitation to the theater’s reopening.
“Some wanted the theater to reopen, some didn’t,” said Govener Hickenhooper. “Certainly both answers are correct.”
Some of the victims found the theater renovations disrespectful. “To hear the placement of the X-D theater is where Theater 9 was is kind of disrespectful,” said Cynthia Kalam, a friend of one of the shooting victims.
The Aurora Theater reopening underscores an important question in regards to the places tragedies occur. After all of the bodies have been removed, the blood stains cleaned, and the upholstery torn up—is it ever really appropriate to open up the space for public use again?
Some might say no, but others disagree. In fact, they view the reopening of such a space as a symbol of the community’s strength and resolve not to be intimated by the acts of lone wolf terrorists. The appropriate course of action seems largely to be determined by the shooter’s motive. The Charleston, North Carolina church building where Dylan Storm Roof opened fire and killed nine church members in June, for example, has decided to remain open—a defiant act of courage that sends a strong message to other would be terrorists: “We will not be intimidated.”
By contrast, the Sandy Hook elementary school where 30 people, most of them children, were mercilessly gunned down has been permanently demolished. In the case of the children lost and their parents, nobody is interested in sending a message to somebody like Adam Lanza, a highly disturbed young man with no apparent political motive. For them, it’s better to just move on—to remember the victims for who they were and the bright futures that were ahead of them, to tear down the school, a wretched place where the vilest act of evil imaginable had occurred.