JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - Management at the Goodrich Capital 8 Theaters is defending what it calls a publicity stunt at the movie theaters this past weekend.
During the opening weekend of the latest 'Iron Man' movie, a man walked into the theater in full tactical gear and carrying a fake gun.
Jefferson City police and witnesses, however, are not pleased with the stunt and are questioning the theater's logic after recent shootings in Aurora, Colo. and Newtown, Conn.
John Molock is a retired Army war veteran and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. He told ABC 17 News this most recent trip to the movies triggered memories he never wanted to relive.
"We had just finished watching Iron Man 3," said Morlock. "We're just getting into the car when I spotted a man in full assault gear, carrying what appeared to be a modified M-4 and 9 mm on his side."
Morlock did not call police, but several other moviegoers did.
"We received a series of 911 calls stating that a man dressed in all black and body armor and a rifle was walking into Capital 8 Theaters," said Capt. Doug Shoemaker.
Officers thought they were responding to an active shooter investigation.
"Everything was in place, it's the opening night of a superhero movie, it's somebody walking in all-dark clothes, everything pointed to bad things about to happen," said Shoemaker. "There's really no good that can come of this."
Instead, it was all part of a publicity stunt for the movie opening. The man in tactical gear was an actor carrying a fake gun.
Capital 8 Theaters manager Bob Wilkins told ABC 17 News this was planned months in advance and only a few people were upset, but hundreds were entertained.
When asked if management took into consideration what happened in the the mass shooting at a Colorado movie theater, Wilkins responded, "Absolutely. That's my number-one priority every day. It's the safety and security of our guests."
ABC 17 News asked Wilkins if he had any regrets for allowing the publicity stunt and he said, "No, my job is to entertain people."
Social media backlash followed ABC 17's initial report Thursday.
Goodrich Capital 8 posted a Facebook apology Friday around noon, saying:
"We apologize and are sympathetic to those who felt they were in harm's way with our character promotion for Iron Man 3. This was not a publicity stunt. We have worked with the Cosplacon group on many movies to dress up and help entertain our customers. We have had many complaints about the members dressed specifically as S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives carrying fake guns. We didn't clearly tell our customers and some people didn't realize it was for entertainment purposes only. We apologize that police were called to come out to our theater. We have a wonderful working relationship with the Jefferson City Police Department. Going forward we will take the necessary steps to make sure this doesn't happen again. Security and safety for our customers is our number one priority."
Still, some moviegoers and law enforcement do not believe the stunt was a good idea.
"That's just unbelievable," said Morlock. "The whole country is talking about gun control because of shootings in theaters and schools."
"It's an unfortunate lack of wisdom in this particular judgement that hopefully will never occur again," said Shoemaker.
Shoemaker added it's a good thing an off-duty officer wasn't at the theater because it's likely the officer would have engaged the actor. Had the actor not complied, the situation could have turned out much worse.
Jefferson City police say the department has a good relationship with the theater and ironically, the SWAT team held an active shooter training there just a couple months ago.After After social media backlash