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Columbus reacts to Colorado theater shooting

Courtesy of MCT

Columbus residents sat excitedly in movie theaters at midnight showings of “The Dark Knight Rises” Thursday night, not knowing that over a thousand miles away, fans just like themselves were under attack.

A heavily armed gunman entered a Century 16 theater in Aurora, Colo. and tossed a canister of tear gas before firing into the crowd.

The gunman has been identified as James Holmes, and is currently in custody.

Seventy-one adults and children were shot on the scene, 12 were killed. Ten died in the theater and two more died in transit to the hospital.

According to several reports, among the injured is one Ohio teen and a former Ohio resident. 17-year-old Gage Hankins, from the Findley area, was wounded in the arm. According to an NBC4 report, Samantha Yowler, the daughter of a St. Paris fire chief, was shot in the leg. Yowler moved to Denver last November. Both victims are expected to recover.

Many woke up to news of the incident Friday morning as it gained global attention, including one Columbus resident who felt the ramifications of the shooting nearly 1,300 miles away.

Kyle Wellman, who works at the Clintonville Caribou Coffee shop, said he and his wife have family living in the Aurora area, just five minutes away from the theater.

“My wife would’ve been out there this week but decided to go earlier this month. If she had been there, she would’ve been going to see the premiere,” Wellman said.

“It’s kind of the scary to think she could’ve been at that same theater,” he said.

One of Wellman’s friends was planning on going to the midnight showing, but ultimately decided against it. His friend also would have been at the Century 16 Theater, where the shooting occurred.

“It’s trickling in who we hear from. So far, no one we know has been hurt,” Wellman said.

As news continued to spread Friday afternoon, local movie theater staff is planning their next move.

“We’re completely shocked and saddened by what has occurred,” said Chris Hamel, President of Gateway Film Center.

The Gateway, on the South end of Ohio State’s campus, has eight theater screens, and Hamel said all of them were sold out for the midnight premiere.

Although Hamel said the event went “very, very well,” they are reviewing their own security policies and procedures.

Currently, the Gateway doesn’t implement the use of the Columbus Division of Police for additional crowd control or security.

“The combination of our own folks and security has done a good job (at crowd control),” Hamel said.

Manger of AMC Lennox Town Center 24, John Swaney, refused to comment, but AMC Theatres released a statement Friday afternoon.

“We’re reinforcing our security procedures with our theatre teams, which we cannot discuss in detail for obvious, safety reasons,” read the release. “Local law enforcement agencies, our landlords and their and our local security teams are stepping up nationwide to ensure we provide the safest environment possible for our guests.”

Columbus Police has not been asked to supply additional security in area theaters over the weekend.

“Before this movie, for years, some theaters have employed special duty officers,” said Sgt. Richard Weiner of Columbus Police.

The police department was not called to respond to any incidents relating to the Dark Knight midnight premiere.

Captain David Rose of the Ohio State Police Department also confirmed no calls were made in relation to the midnight showings.

The incident has affected Americans across the country and for some in the area, it brings up memories of the notorious 1999 Columbine High School shooting, where 12 students and one faculty member were shot and killed.

Kayla Ferguson, a recent graduate of Pepperdine University and a Denver native, has friends that were in the Aurora area at the time of the shooting.

“I called them first thing this morning to make sure they were all OK,” Ferguson said.

Having lived near Littleton, Colo. in 1999, Ferguson said that she remembers the Columbine shooting, and was about 10 years old when it happened. Being “young and impactful,” she remembers equating the incident with the September 11 terrorist attacks.

News of the event spread largely through social media. Many movie-goers tweeted about what had happened to assure friends and family that they were safe.

Ferguson said that although she has friends in the area, she first heard of the incident through Twitter and Facebook.

“It honestly could have happened anywhere,” Ferguson said.

She intends to call her family today to check on her younger sibling’s safety.

The incident has not escaped the attention of White House. President Barack Obama has requested that all American flags be flown at half-mast today in honor of those affected.

While in Fort Myers, FL for a campaign event, Obama changed his speech to one that reflected on the events of early this morning.

“We’re going to stand by our neighbors in Colorado during this extraordinarily difficult time,” said Obama, according to a press release.

Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney have both taken the day off from campaigning in response to the shooting. Obama said there will “be other days for politics.”

“The Dark Knight Rises” is still playing in Columbus area theaters. Hamel said that the Gateway will keep all of the planned showings according to schedule. 

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