We do have extra precautions in place (but) we want the atmosphere to be fun. We want the environment to be fun and for everyone to have a really great time. —Blake Andersen, senior vice president of Megaplex Theaters
SALT LAKE CITY — The morning after a mass shooting at a Colorado screening of "The Dark Knight Rises," theater owners in Utah were encouraging those planning on attending showings over the weekend to keep those plans.
"We're doing everything we can and want to encourage people to come out," Blake Andersen, senior vice president of Megaplex Theatres, said Friday.
As many as 12 people were killed and another 59 were injured when a masked gunman entered a midnight showing of the latest Batman film at a Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, Colo. The man threw a gas canister into the theater before opening fire. Police have taken James Holmes, 24, into custody in connection with the incident.
Megaplex Theatres had planned a number of events around the much-anticipated film and Andersen said those would go forward, but the company has security personnel and off-duty police officers who will be present for weekend showings. The staff is also trained to recognize and report suspicious behavior.
"I hope it's not a fortress or makes people uneasy," he said. "We do have extra precautions in place (but) we want the atmosphere to be fun. We want the environment to be fun and for everyone to have a really great time."
He offered words of condolence to those who have loved ones involved and for those operating the theater where the shooting took place.
"I don't think they could have prevented this," he said. "It's just a random act of violence."
A spokesman for Century and Cinemark theaters did not return calls for comment Friday. But local law enforcement agencies said they have fielded calls from Cinemark asking for an increased police presence at their theaters. Sandy Police Sgt. Troy Arnold said the department was asked to go to the Century 16 Union Heights theater in uniform to make their presence known and provide security.
South Salt Lake police spokesman Gary Keller said his department was also asked to increase their visibility at the Century 16 theaters at 125 E. 3300 South, a move those in his department were already considering to "put everyone at ease."
While South Salt Lake police are planning increased patrols, Keller said theater patrons were also being asked to notify police should they notice anything of concern.
"We want to remind people to just be aware of your surroundings, the people around you," Keller said. "If something looks suspicious, go with your gut feeling and give police a call."
Liesel Stout and her husband, Spencer, went to see the same movie in South Salt Lake Friday, but did briefly have second thoughts.
"We were pulling up and my husband said that this movie theater looked kind of like the one in Colorado. And I'm like, 'Should we go there? Are we gonna be OK?' But yeah, I think you have to go on with your normal life, but you feel so bad for the people it affected."
"It's certainly on your mind," Spencer Stout added. "But I don't have any reservations. A random act of violence by one individual that was probably not right in the head and it won't change what we do."
Roy Police Chief Greg Whinham said his department is already paying close attention to the events in Colorado in an effort to learn from what happened. Shootings often dictate the type of training his officers undergo because each situation is unique and presents different scenarios.
"We're in a culture, unfortunately, right now where there's no lack of creativity in the mind of a person who wants to harm others," Whinham said. "We study, at length, incidents like Trolley Square. We study, at length, Columbine … other shootings. We study those so that we can know what has already happened."
Whinham said he's confident his is not the only department focused on this most recent incident.
"We'll learn as much as we can from their experience (in case) similar things happen here," he said. "I'm sure that along this Wasatch Front, there's not a chief of police who is not aware and having people monitoring the events there so we can be better prepared."
Randy Watt, a colonel in the Utah Army National Guard's 19th Special Forces and former assistant police chief in Ogden, trains schools and businesses for active shooter situations. He said there are also ways citizens can prepare themselves for shootings.
He emphasized being aware of the surrounding environment and knowing four steps that can buy time until law enforcement arrives:
• "Rule number one, get out," he said. "When this thing starts, get out. If you can, call 911 and report it."
• " If you can't get out, barricade." He recommended trying to create a barricade between you and the shooter.
• If that isn't an option, Watts suggests trying to hide.
• "You can't flee, you can't barricade, you can't hide — you've only got one solution left and that's attack," Watt said, adding that yelling, screaming or throwing objects can disrupt the shooter. "He's not expecting an attack. You get an opportunity to attack, it's the last thing you can do, then do it."
Ultimately, Whinham said "we have to keep living our life." As he was interviewed Friday, Whinham's wife and son were at a theater watching the new Batman movie.
Andersen said he hopes most will not be deterred from attending the movie due to the Colorado shooting.
"As Americans, that's not the way we want to live our lives," he said. "The worst thing we can do is hunker down and say, 'I'm not going to the mall or the movie theater.'"
Contributing: Jed Boal, Mike Anderson
E-mail: [email protected]