One piece still missing from puzzle of fatal theater shooting: Why?

Posted at 5:25 PM, Jan 14, 2014
and last updated 2014-01-14 19:25:25-05
By Steve Almasy and Ashley Fantz


(CNN) — In a dimly lit Florida theater, Curtis Reeves got into an argument with another moviegoer over texting. The two men exchanged words that gradually became more heated and Reeves felt something hit his face.

Reeves, who minutes earlier had gone to seek a manager’s help to stop the texting, this time reached into a pocket in his pants.

He later told police he feared the man was going to attack him.

Reeves, a former police officer, pulled a gun and shot once, hitting Chad Oulson in the chest and Oulson’s wife, Nicole, in the hand she was using to grab her husband in an attempt to calm things down.

As the victim struggled to breathe and fell onto two other patrons, Reeves sat down. An off-duty deputy five seats over charged toward him and grabbed the gun, which had jammed.

Chad Oulson died later at a hospital. His wife’s wound was considered non-life threatening.

The shooter’s son — an off-duty Tampa police officer — was just arriving at theater 10. He had been delayed to his date with his father and his mother, and he had no idea his dad had just killed another man.

On Tuesday, Curtis Reeves, 71, made his first appearance in court for a charge of second-degree murder. Reeves’ attorney, Richard Escobar, tried to persuade Circuit Judge Lynn Tepper that the former police officer was actually the victim in the incident and that Oulson was the “aggressor.”

Police said despite Reeves’ claim that he was in fear of his safety, this was not a case for Florida’ “stand your ground” defense.

“Working with the state attorney’s office it was determined that stand-your-ground does not fly here in this case,” Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco said.

Authorities said a preliminary investigation had determined that there was no physical contact during the incident Monday afternoon at a theater in the Tampa suburb of Wesley Chapel. It was popcorn, thrown by Oulson, 43, that struck Reeves.

Sgt. Steve Greiner, the first Pasco County deputy to encounter Reeves, said the suspect was very calm as he sat in his chair. He had an almost distant stare toward the screen, Greiner said.

Reeves also stared silently into a closed-circuit camera Tuesday, listening to Escobar tell Tepper why his client should be granted bail.

Tepper said there was no evidence to support the claim that the shooter was a victim, according to a probable cause affidavit. She denied bond and ruled that Reeves should face the second-degree murder charge.

The judge addressed Reeves and asked him if he understood what had happened and that he was facing life in prison; Reeves said he did. Reeves’ attorney then said that he and his client would speak in private, indicating that the former officer should not say anything in court.

Reeves wore a bullet-resistant vest. Nocco said it was for the defendant’s safety.

An argument over texting, then a shot

The shooting happened Monday afternoon at the Grove 16 theater about 1:25 p.m. ET, just before an afternoon showing of “Lone Survivor,” a film about a Navy SEAL mission.

Reeves was with his wife and sat behind Oulson and his wife, authorities said. Chad Oulson was using his cell phone and Reeves told him to put it away, according to police and witnesses.

The two men began to argue and Reeves walked out of the auditorium. Police said Reeves was going to complain to a theater employee.

When Reeves returned, witnesses and authorities said that Oulson asked him if he had gone to tell on him for texting. Oulson reportedly said, in effect: I was just sending a message to my young daughter.

Police said Tuesday that Oulson was texting the daughter’s babysitter.

Charles Cummings and his adult son were two seats away. Cummings said that when Reeves returned to the theater, there was no manager with him.

“He came back very irritated,” Cummings recalled.

Voices were raised. Oulson threw a bag of popcorn at Reeves, police said. Then, the former police officer took out a .380 semi-automatic handgun and shot Oulson.

As Oulson staggered and fell, “He said, ‘I can’t believe I got shot,'” the younger Cummings recounted. “Blood started coming out of his mouth. I was trying to hold him up. He just fell down.”

“I can’t believe people would bring a pistol to a movie,” said the elder Cummings, a Vietnam War veteran who was celebrating his birthday by spending the afternoon with his son.

Chaos in a theater

During Reeves’ first appearance Tuesday, his attorney argued that Oulson was the “aggressor.”

“It may or may not have been popcorn…” Judge Tepper said, but an unknown object “does not equal” taking out a gun.

Witnesses told police they saw no punches being thrown during the incident, according to the report.

There were about 25 people in the movie theater. After the shooting, some made valiant efforts to help Oulson and to make sure no other people were hurt.

An off-duty deputy sheriff from Sumter County rushed over to make sure no more shots were fired and that the shooter was not going to get up.

One of two nurses in the audience ran to Oulson’s side and performed CPR until paramedics arrived. An autopsy will be conducted Tuesday.

A former cop and security worker

Reeves retired in 1993 as a captain with the police department in nearby Tampa. He also was director of security at Busch Gardens until 2005, a spokesman told CNN. Police told CNN that Reeves was instrumental in establishing the police department’s first Tactical Response Team.

Records released by the department indicate that he was often praised for his work ethic and leadership. Negative remarks were rare, such as a 1979 evaluation that said he had shown a temper when dealing with supervisors.

After court Tuesday, reporters circled Escobar as he headed to his car.

Escobar said that Reeves has “great credentials” and called him a “great man.”

“Certain circumstances happened in that theater,” the attorney said, and those details would come out at trial, he said.

“Mr. Reeves is certainly heartbroken,” that someone lost their life, the lawyer said.

A neighbor told Bay News 9 that Reeves is a nice guy.

“Always smiling. I’ve never seen him angry,” Bill Costas said. “If I needed help with something, he was always there.”

Who was the texting dad?

Chad Oulson was a former U.S. Navy Petty Officer, serving from 1990 to 1997, according to spokeswoman Lt. Richlyn Neal.

Tuesday morning, a woman who said she was Oulson’s sister answered the door at his home in the Tampa suburb of Land O’ Lakes, the Tampa Tribune reported.

She told a reporter that the family is in shock and declined to comment.

In the home’s garage, the Tribune reporter said, a motocross motorcycle was on a stand next to a gold pickup truck and a child’s wagon.

“He loved his job, loved his family, loved motocross, loved the motorcycle world,” friend Joseph Detrapani told the newspaper. “He grew up riding motocross and loved to keep doing it, even at his age of 43, he’s still out there every weekend riding.”

Rules for the theater

Meanwhile, Cobb Theatres, which operates the Grove complex, released a statement: “This was an isolated altercation between two guests that escalated unexpectedly. The safety, security and comfort of our guests and team members are always our top priorities, and we are truly heartbroken by this incident.”

A list of prohibited items and behavior in their theaters are on the theater website. Among them: no cell phone use, including texting, in the theater auditorium. And no weapons allowed.

CNN’s Suzanne Presto, Tristan Smith and Jennifer Rizzo contributed to this report.

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