Suburban movie theaters scrambled Friday to address security concerns raised by the mass shooting that killed 12 people during a midnight screening of the latest "Batman" film in Aurora, Colo.
Two theater companies moved quickly to ban patrons from wearing costumes or masks that might hide their identity, a response to reports the Colorado shooter wore a gas mask during the attack.
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"Effective immediately, we're not going to allow backpacks into the theater and not allow guests to wear masks that cover their face, hiding their identity," said Chris Johnson, vice president of Classic Cinemas, which has suburban locations in St. Charles, Carpentersville, Elk Grove Village, Fox Lake, Naperville, Downers Grove and Elmhurst. "We have camera systems in all our auditoriums, and we're double checking that they all work properly."
Johnson added that besides reviewing security measures already in place, Classic Cinemas has invited in local police if they want to provide an extra presence at theaters. But he didn't expect the patron experience would be much affected this weekend.
"It was an isolated incident, but we need to take note of that," Johnson said. "We had thousands of people attending 'The Dark Knight' last night without a single incident ... I don't think it's necessarily going to change your visit to the theater tonight."
AMC Theatres, which has many locations throughout the suburbs, released a statement on its Facebook page Friday afternoon that outlined some security changes. The chain states it will not allow in guests wearing costumes that make others uncomfortable, nor permit face-covering masks or fake weapons. The theaters will honor guests' requests for ticket exchanges or refunds.
"AMC Theatres is deeply saddened by the Aurora tragedy," the statement reads. "Movie going is part of our social fabric and this senseless act shakes us to our core. We're reinforcing our security procedures with our theater teams, which we cannot discuss in detail for obvious, safety reasons."
"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," the statement continues. "We couldn't be more grateful for their collective support."
Hollywood Palms Cinemas, which has locations in Naperville and Woodridge, also has reached out to local police departments for help, Director of Marketing and Public Relations Angelique Barthel said.
"We've been in contact with both Naperville and Woodridge police departments, so customers can expect a heightened security presence," Barthel said. "It won't be that intense."
She added that patrons uncomfortable about going to the theaters this weekend will be allowed to exchange their tickets for a future date.
A staff member at the Regal Cantera 30 in Warrenville said the Colorado shooting probably would not immediately change the security precautions already been in place there. These include the use of private security officers on weekends, random patrols, undercover personnel, bag checks and a ban on backpacks, she said.
The theater does not anticipate large numbers of requests for refunds on tickets pre-purchased for this weekend, she added.
South Barrington Police Chief Michael Deegan said AMC Theatres hasn't reached out to his department for more assistance, but he did know something of the arrangements already in place at AMC South Barrington 30.
The theater uses private security on the weekends, made up of trained and armed Cook County correctional officers, Deegan said. For the most part, they're there just as extra pairs of eyes and to call South Barrington police at the first sign of any real trouble, he added.
In the case of such a major crime like the one in Colorado, those security officers have the training and ability to take immediate action during those moments before local police arrive to take charge, Deegan said.
Deegan expected there would be at least a gathering of the theater's security team Friday for a reminder to be vigilant of certain things.
The Colorado tragedy didn't appear to be having much immediate impact on the popularity of "The Dark Knight Rises" among moviegoers. Driving past the AMC South Barrington 30 late Friday morning, Deegan saw that the parking lot already halfway full -- unusual for so early in the day.
Everything appeared normal at the AMC Loews Streets of Woodfield theater Friday afternoon. There was no extra security visible at an afternoon showing of "The Dark Knight Rises."
At the AMC Randhurst 12 in Mount Prospect, 18-year-old Shawn McLaughlin of Mount Prospect said that while the Colorado shooting was shocking to hear about, it wasn't going to stop him from seeing the movie.
"It's like a one in a million chance of that happening," McLaughlin said of the shooting.
Justine Redmond, 17, of Mount Prospect said she was "stoked" to see the movie. She had found out about the shooting as she was coming to the theater, but didn't think a similar incident would occur in the area.
Cinemark Holdings, Inc., which owns the movie theater where the Colorado shootings occurred, also owns theaters in the Chicago suburbs, including the Century Stratford Square in Bloomingdale and the Century 16 Deer Park in Deer Park.
Cinemark Vice President of Marketing & Communications James Meredith could not be reached Friday morning about any general changes to security within the company. But he did release a statement in response to the shooting.
"Cinemark is deeply saddened about this tragic incident," the statement reads. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and loved ones, our employees, and the Aurora community. We are grateful for the quick and professional reaction of all law enforcement and emergency responders. Cinemark is working closely with the Aurora (Colo.) Police Department and local law enforcement."
Those sentiments were echoed by Marcus Theatres, which has locations in Addison, Elgin and Gurnee.
"These senseless, random acts of violence, by disturbed individuals, can happen anywhere, but had never occurred in a U.S. movie theater in its 110-year history," the statement reads. "Safety and security of our guests and associates is always a priority concern. We will take appropriate measures to have our security precautions in place today and every day."
• Daily Herald staff writer Clara Bush contributed to this report.