Sierra Pellerin had never seen a bullet wound until she rushed into The Grand 16 Theatre on July 23.
As one of the first medics to enter the auditorium that night after a gunman opened fire on a crowd of moviegoers, killing two and wounding nine before turning the gun on himself, Pellerin said her Thursday evening return to the site felt strange.
“It was weird to come back here today. It’s still surprising to even talk about it,” Pellerin said.
Along with Pellerin, dozens of first responders, public officials and theater patrons returned to the theater as it opened its doors for the first time since the shooting. The crowd celebrated the event, erupting in cheers and applause after the ceremonial ribbon-cutting marked the official reopening of the Johnston Street theater.
Along with the Rev. Lloyd Benoit — pastor to one of the shooting victims, 21-year-old Mayci Breaux, of Franklin — Lafayette City-Parish President Joey Durel led the crowd in showing appreciation for the first responders who worked that night.
He also urged the crowd to remember the theater’s employees.
“One of the first group of first responders, that you don’t think of as first responders, were the employees of the theater. Be sure to thank them,” Durel said.
Five films were scheduled to play inside the 16-screen theater on Thursday night. It’s unclear when the entire facility will be operational. Workers appeared to be putting finishing touches inside the lobby before the doors opened.
The facility boasted new carpeting, upholstery, seating and fixtures on the inside and fresh coats of paint outside, including adornments of bold red and green paint on the three-tiered building’s central section.
Faded paper stars hung upon the theater’s roadside marquee were the only evidence of the tragedy that unfolded on that Thursday summer night.
Pellerin, who said the memory of treating the wounded inside the dark auditorium remains with her today, said she tries to stay focused on the lives saved.
“Even though we lost two, the other people made it. You have to stay positive,” Pellerin said.
As Lafayette resident Sharon Rue snapped a picture of the huge flag hanging between two elevated fire ladders in the theater’s parking lot, she said she decided to return to the theater — “our theater” — to show support.
“When the shooting happened, like everybody else in Lafayette, we were so shocked. We were grieving for the people who were hurt, for those whose were killed, but mostly we were grieving for our community,” Rue said.
Rue made plans to attend opening night “to show not only support for this business but also to be here for our community and say we are Lafayette strong. We are better and stronger than this.”
Along with Breaux, Lafayette’s 33-year-old Jillian Johnson — a business owner, artist, musician and community organizer — died at the theater that night.
The event sparked a massive response, with “Lafayette Strong” becoming the slogan for a community mourning the tragedy.
Lafayette brothers Wesley and Weston Guillory said they grew up attending The Grand 16 and made it a point to attend the reopening.
“It’s nice to be back here,” Wesley Guillory said. “We’ve always loved this place.”
His brother agreed.
“It could happen anywhere,” Weston Guillory said. “That one bad shooting will never, ever take away my memories of this place.”
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or contact her by phone at (337) 534-0825.