Skip to main content

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

By Steve Almasy and Ashley Fantz, CNN
January 15, 2014 -- Updated 0307 GMT (1107 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Police evaluations for Curtis Reeves gave him praise for his work ethic
  • Judge: Thrown popcorn "does not equal" taking out a gun
  • Bond denied for Reeves in movie theater shooting that followed texting dispute
  • Sheriff says this is not a "stand your ground" case

(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 for, police say, a pistol.

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

Atty: Shooter had previous text incident
Heroes step up at movie theater shooting
Man killed in theater over texting
Police: Moviegoer killed for texting

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's "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. But Nocco told CNN on Tuesday night that the manager was busy with another customer and Reeves never addressed his complaint with a supervisor.

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 tried 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 sensational crime that strikes many chords

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 is Curtis Reeves?

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 is on the theater website. On the list: no cell phone use, including texting, in the theater auditorium. And no weapons allowed.

Guns in theaters

CNN's Martin Savidge, Devon Sayers, Kevin Conlon, Suzanne Presto, Tristan Smith and Jennifer Rizzo contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1201 GMT (2001 HKT)
Put yourself in the shoes (and sixth-century black robes) of ISIS' Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the mysterious boss of the terror group.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 0500 GMT (1300 HKT)
China's Xi Jinping and India's Narendra Modi, leaders of the most populous nations face similar challenges. Can they learn from each other?
September 17, 2014 -- Updated 2236 GMT (0636 HKT)
The U.S. is not returning combat troops to Iraq, President Barack Obama insists.
September 17, 2014 -- Updated 0038 GMT (0838 HKT)
A man abducted alongside killed U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff tells CNN that no one from the U.S. government has tried to talk with him.
September 17, 2014 -- Updated 1508 GMT (2308 HKT)
Mulatu Astatke is the founding father of ethio-jazz: a fusion of Ethiopian music with western jazz.
September 17, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
Have you been to these? The global museum list, released Tuesday, ranks 25 of the world's best museums.
September 17, 2014 -- Updated 1703 GMT (0103 HKT)
iOS 8, the latest version of Apple's mobile operating system, comes with new features that you'll enjoy.
September 17, 2014 -- Updated 0927 GMT (1727 HKT)
Psychedelic drugs are being researched as a potential treatment for conditions ranging from anxiety to tobacco and alcohol addiction.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 0142 GMT (0942 HKT)
It's a surfer's paradise -- but Diah Rahayu is out on her own when it comes to professional women's wave-riding in Bali.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1409 GMT (2209 HKT)
Even death couldn't part two skeletons excavated from a lost chapel in an English county, found with their fingers entwined.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1620 GMT (0020 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT