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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.
We're doing everything we can and want to encourage people to come out.
Megaplex Theatres had planned a number of events around the much-anticipated film and Andersen said those would go forward, but that the company has security and off-duty police officers who will attend showings. Their 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."
Phone calls to local Century and Cinemark theatres were referred to James Meredith, vice president of marketing and communications for Cinemark, which also owns Century Theatres. He could not be immediately reached for comment Friday.
But local law enforcement agencies said they have fielded calls from Cinemark asking for an increased police presence at their theatres. Sandy Police Sgt. Troy Arnold said the department was contacted by Cinemark and asked to go to the Century 16 Union Heights theatre 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."
Tips for safety and how to react in a shooting were given by Colonel Randy Watts from the Utah Army National Guard 19th special forces. "We don't want to be victims," he said. "If you can't get out, barricade. If you can't flee or barricade, hide. If you can't flee, you can't barricade, you can't hide, you've only got one solution left. And that's attack."
Watts admits that attacking isn't the best scenario but that it can buy time, and save lives. "He's not expecting an attack. You get an opportunity to attack, it's the last thing you can do and do it. Better than laying down."
After Watts instructions for protection, Chief Greg Whinam also discussed why it is difficult for police officers to be prepared for incidents of this nature. "The reality of it is, we do the training, and we train, based on what has already happened," said Whinam. "When a new incident surfaces, there are always new lessons to be learned."
- If you can, call 911 and report it.
- If you can't get out, barricade.
- If you can't flee or barricade, hide.
- If you can't flee, barricade, or hide, attack.
Whinam also noted how in today's society, there is really no way of knowing what can happen. "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."
But Andersen said he hopes people 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.'"
President Barack Obama held a press conference in the wake of the incident as statements were released by GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
"As a country, we have shown time and time again that in moments of great sorrow, we come together as one," Hatch said. "I have no doubt that once again we as a nation will come together and unify around the victims of this tragedy.”
Obama issued a similar call for unity.
"As we do when confronted by moments of darkness and challenge, we must now come together as one American family," he said. "All of us must have the people of Aurora in our thoughts and prayers as they confront the loss of family, friends, and neighbors, and we must stand together with them in the challenging hours and days to come."
Romney said he and his wife, Ann, will pray for the families and loved ones of the victims involved and that they "expect that the person responsible for this terrible crime will be quickly brought to justice.”