Hours after a gunman's deadly shooting rampage in an Aurora, Colo., theater, Tampa Bay residents began queuing up to box offices for early matinees.
Many were buying tickets for The Dark Knight Rises, the movie playing when the killings began and one of the most anticipated films of the summer. Across the U.S., the film earned an estimated $80-$90 million Friday, on a pace to gross nearly $180 million this weekend.
Tampa resident Carlton Simmons, 36, visited AMC Veterans 24 to see the Batman movie with his girlfriend and her two sons. Horrific events in Aurora weighed on his mind.
"You worry about a copycat," Simmons said. "I'm going to be more cautious, more alert. Just be aware of any kind of suspicious patterns. And I'll get a seat toward the exits, so if anything started I'd be closer to the exit. I'll be more vigilant."
Simmons and his group then walked into the theater, through doors adorned with a sticker declaring "No weapons allowed," with the image of a gun with a slash symbol through it.
Many theaters hire extra-duty, uniformed police officers to monitor evening crowds. The Colorado massacre prompted at least two Tampa Bay agencies to bolster security this weekend with on-duty officers.
Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor said her department would "increase patrols around Tampa theaters in an abundance of caution." Pinellas Park's police department announced plans to post additional officers at Park Place Stadium 16. St. Petersburg police and sheriff's offices in Pinellas and Hillsborough had no plans to significantly increase patrols.
Tampa police also said it plans to conduct "active shooter" training at area theaters soon. This training — already offered at malls, large employers and schools — teaches people how to respond when a gunman attacks. Spokeswoman Laura McElroy said the department hadn't previous done this type of training with movie theaters.
"But in the wake of something like this happening, we will reach out to that industry," she said.
Jordon Smith, 22, of Tampa, came alone to Veterans 24 for a Friday morning screening of The Dark Knight Rises. Smith prefers attending matinees after several unsettling nighttime experiences.
"It's safer, and there's not a lot of people," Smith said. "At nights you've got crowds and people sitting on the seats, so you don't know what would happen if a gunshot went off. I try not to think about it."
Albert Vidal, 39 of Tampa, accompanied his 14-year-old son Jakob to the film. Vidal compared Friday's situation with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"I had to fly right after 9/11, and this is kind of the same thing," he said. "You can't let it freeze you and not let you do anything.
"I'm not concerned about it now. I think security is probably a little tighter when it's only hours after what happened (in Aurora)."
Christy Paro and Kim Falconer, both of Tampa, each brought two children to AMC West Shore 14 for a matinee of Ice Age: Continental Drift.
"I was up early this morning watching the news, kind of thinking about it, knowing we would be at a theater today," Falconer said. "I often think there could be somebody (who would) follow up what happened out there, which might make me a little more nervous if I was sending my teenager to The Dark Knight (Rises) show later tonight."
Paro shrugged off the notion that going to a movie theater is suddenly dangerous. "There are freaks everywhere," Paro said. "I could go to the ice cream store and have the same thing happen. I can't live my life in fear."
Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365.