JEFFERSON CITY, MO. - A Missouri movie theater manager is defending a publicity stunt where a man in black body armor with a fake rifle walked into the opening of "Iron Man 3" last weekend.
But the stunt had some terrified moviegoers calling 911 and police responding to an "active shooter" incident.
Jefferson City police and upset moviegoers are wondering what Goodrich Capital 8 Theaters managers were thinking after the deadly shooting rampages last year at the Century 16 movie complex in Aurora and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
James Holmes is accused of wearing black tactical gear when he opened fire with an assault rifle and other guns in a crowded Aurora theater during a midnight premier of the "The Dark Knight Rises" on July 20, 2012. Holmes awaits trial for the attack that left 12 moviegoers dead and injured 70 others.
In Jefferson City, John Molock, a retired Army war veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, told ABC 17 News the Capitol 8 Theaters stunt triggered memories he never wanted to relive.
"We had just finished watching Iron Man 3," Morlock said. "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 9mm [handgun] on his side."
Police Captain Doug Shoemaker said, "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,".
Shoemaker said 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."
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 mass shooting at the 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."
Still, some moviegoers and law enforcement criticized the stunt.
"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 judgment that hopefully will never occur again," said Shoemaker, the police captain.
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, he added.
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.