Colorado shooting felt in Suffolk

Published 10:32 pm Friday, July 20, 2012

A Suffolk police cruiser was parked outside the Harbour View cinema complex Friday after security was increased in the wake of a deadly shooting in a Colorado movie theater. (Matthew A. Ward/Suffolk News-Herald)

Security at Suffolk’s Harbour View cinema complex was stepped up Friday after a gunman opened fire in a Colorado movie theater during a midnight premier of a new Batman movie, killing at least 12 and wounding dozens more.

The Aurora Police Department says that a suspect, 24-year-old James Eagen Holmes, was arrested outside the Century 16 Movie Theater, in an outlying part of Denver, shortly after the shooting at about 12:39 a.m. Mountain Daylight Time.

Police say the shooter threw devices into the theater emitting smoke and an irritant, then opened fire.

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Suffolk spokeswoman Debbie George said the Suffolk Police Department contacted Regal Harbour View Grande 16, which already hires off-duty officers for security, and organized extra patrols.

“Extra patrols will be deployed in addition to what the movie theater already has in place,” she said.

Before entering a 7 p.m. session of “The Dark Knight Rises” at a relatively quiet Harbour View Friday, Greg Patterson said the shooting must have scared people off.

“We expected a larger crowd,” he said. “I was expecting it to be packed for this type of blockbuster.”

Asked if he had any concerns seeing the same movie so soon after the shooting, he said, “I’m an anti-terrorism officer for the [Department of Defense] — if I had any concerns we wouldn’t have come.”

Patty Potter, there to see the animated “Ice Age: Continental Drift” movie, said it was “just tragic” that people had been killed at a cinema.

“It’s something that you think of as being innocent and fun,” she said, standing in the foyer near a uniformed Suffolk law enforcement officer. “The way it’s becoming, it’s just crazy.”

Jennifer Johnson, accompanying Potter, said, “Schools, now a movie theater — it’s kind of shocking. Where are you safe?”

Regal Entertainment Group released a statement that it is “profoundly saddened by the tragedy that occurred at a Denver area theater and are concerned for the victims and their families.”

“The security and safety of our guests and staff is always our number one priority,” it continued. “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.”

Sherry Sandman, a manager, said Chesapeake Square’s Cinemark, whose parent company Cinemark Holdings Inc. owns the theater where the shooting occurred, was taking no extra precautions.

“I haven’t heard anything,” she said. “As far as I know we’re just business as normal.”

Cinemark Holdings issued a statement saying it is “deeply saddened about this tragic incident.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and loved ones, our employees, and the Aurora community,” the statement said.

“We are grateful for the quick and professional reaction of all local law enforcement and emergency responders.

“Cinemark is working closely with the Aurora Police Department and local law enforcement.”

Police reportedly recovered four guns during the arrest, including one inside the theater, and said Holmes was wearing “complete ballistic gear,” including helmet, vest, shin guards, groin and throat protectors. He also had a gas mask, police say.

The “terrible act of senseless violence … reminds all of us how fragile life is,” Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell said in a statement.

“Today, our hearts are heavy for those who were killed, those who were wounded, their friends and family, and everyone in the Aurora community,” he said.

He asked Virginians to “reflect upon those whom they love, and to remain vigilant about taking care of each other.”