Return to Transcripts main page


Suspect Shot Dead in Tennessee Movie Theater, According To Police. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired August 5, 2015 - 16:00   ET



DON AARON, NASHVILLE POLICE SPOKESMAN: Other officers had set up at the back of the theater.

Ultimately, the suspect, who is -- I am told was wearing a surgical mask, came out of the backdoor of the theater. Metro police officers at the back of the theater, of this "Max Max" theater, outside engaged him. He was shot, fatally wounded, and has been pronounced deceased here at the scene.

This person has been tentatively identified as a 51-year-old local man. His identity has not been confirmed. We are working to do that now. The actions of that first officer who went in the theater to engage this individual may well have saved multiple individuals inside that theater, as officers worked to evacuate everyone in here.

Obviously, this is an eight-plex. There are eight theaters here. He remained confined, we believe, to that "Mad Max" theater after that first officer encountered him. That suspect remained inside the "Mad Max" showing and didn't go elsewhere. He was wearing a backpack on the front on his chest.

The bomb squad, our hazardous devices unit is still working on clearing the materials that he had with him. We know he had a gun, which we have not examined at this point. We know that he had a -- something between a hatchet and an axe and then this backpack on the front of himself, wearing a surgical mask. The mask may have been to try to negate the effects of the chemical spray that he had brought with him.

QUESTION: Was anybody shot inside the theater at all?

AARON: The only person who was shot was the suspect as he emerged out the rear door of that single movie theater.

QUESTION: Did your officers happen to say if the suspect said anything to police, said anything to anybody in the theater, witnesses, anything?

AARON: Not that I'm aware of at this juncture.

QUESTION: What are you looking at right now that the suspect had with him? We understand the bomb squad is also on scene looking at packages of some kind. AARON: Well, he had the backpack on his chest, wearing a backpack on

his front. And he also had some other backpack or satchel with him.

We're clearing those just to make sure that there's nothing inside them.

QUESTION: Can you explain, Don, about the pepper spray? Did he have canisters of pepper spray and was just openly spraying people? What happened?

AARON: Witnesses who were in the theater at the time have been taken to a location very nearby here at this mall and are being interviewed. I don't have a report yet of his actions with them when the citizens first encountered him.

I do know that when the sergeant first came up on the scene, these three persons, the man and the two women, were coming out, the man with the superficial wound, we believe, from the axe, and then the two women who had been doused in the face with this chemical spray.


AARON: Say again?

QUESTION: The timeline? How long did all this play out?

AARON: The call to the police department was about 1:13, and officers were engaging very quickly, within two minutes.

And then I don't have a precise time as to when he came out of the theater, but suffice it to say the police response was swift and this man was contained in this theater, despite the pepper spray going off, everything else, until he ultimately emerged out the backdoor.

QUESTION: This police officer was obviously extremely brave. This is an example of really just a high-class officer. Talk about how he's doing right now.

AARON: Well, in situations like this, police officers will tell you that their training kicks in. The Metro Police Department is highly trained in active shooter situations.

We have trained on it actually at the old Bellevue Mall here in the city. Officers know what to do in these situations, and this officer let his training kick in. Obviously, his training was very effective and it worked.

QUESTION: Don, do you know when this gentleman came into the theater today, did he say anything to the tellers, did he give any type of indication that he was a troubled individual? Anything like that?

AARON: We are still putting that scenario together. I don't know what he may have said, if anything, here in the theater. We have a report that -- before he came to the theater, was somewhere else in a public place in this area, and may have uttered something.

We're still confirming that now.

QUESTION: Don, do we know if he purchased a ticket to see the movie?

AARON: I do not. I do not.

QUESTION: Obviously, the officer had shot at him. Do we know how badly wounded he might have been before he tried to escape?

QUESTION: Don, do you know the race or nationality (OFF-MIKE)

AARON: He's white.


AARON: Say again?

QUESTION: How many people were in the theater beyond the three who were potentially...

AARON: When the officer encountered him, we believe that he was the only one in there at the present time, although I must say the officers did not know that.


The officer who encountered him first went into the projection room, and then tried to work his way down and ultimately came to a level where he encountered the gunman. And then when the SWAT team got in, the room was full of this chemical irritant, somewhat cloudy in there.

The entire theater has been cleared. There's no one with any substantive injury, other than the suspect, who was fatally wounded by Metro police officers.


QUESTION: I wanted to ask, when they were in the theater, he started praying with the pepper, did the individuals flee the theater at that point? Do you know?

AARON: That is my supposition, yes, because when the sergeant arrived, he was one of the first ones here. There were two officers here before him, but he was the first supervisor here. And he encountered them just outside.

QUESTION: Don, is it possible that the three people who were leaving (OFF-MIKE) were the only patrons in there watching the movie at the time?

AARON: This particular film, I don't know. Again, this...

QUESTION: That's what I mean (OFF-MIKE) in this theater.

AARON: Yes, that's possible. That's possible.

Again, the witnesses are going to be giving statements at another location. And they're doing that as we speak right now.


AARON: Again, when this all started, police officers were working a crash just on Bell Road, just off movie theater property.

Persons ran to those officers to report a man with a gun and an axe, and I think there was also a phone call about that time as well.

QUESTION: So just to back up real quick, the officer went inside the theater by himself, that's where he encountered the gunman, was inside the theater?

AARON: You're correct. You're correct.

QUESTION: This whole encounter happened inside that theater?

AARON: You're correct.

QUESTION: And we don't know how many people were in the theater at the time?

AARON: At this point, I do not.

QUESTION: How many witnesses have you moved to another location to interview, approximately?

AARON: Well, there could have been -- by one account -- again, this is very preliminary. There could have been as many as 20 folks in this complex at the time.

We have a number of witnesses who have been taken to a private facility here on the same property to be interviewed. I haven't been there at this point. So, I don't know how many actually are there giving statements.

QUESTION: And, again, that's 20 in the complex...


AARON: You're correct. You're correct. You're correct.

And, again, that 20 is preliminary. It could go up or down. That's just an initial estimate.

Brian Haas is here with the Metro Fire Department. He can talk about what injuries to citizens that they saw.


My name is Brian Haas, public information officer for the Nashville Fire Department.

We responded along with police here to the call of an active shooter. Fortunately, after at least two or three searches at this point, we have only been required to treat three patients. The first patient was a 58-year-old male. All three patients had been sprayed with some sort of irritant which we believe was a pepper spray sprayed by the assailant.

The 58-year-old male also suffered from what was described as a superficial wound to his shoulder or arm from what may be a hatchet. And then there were two women as well, a 53-year-old woman and a 17- year-old women, who were also treated to exposure to pepper spray.

At this point, they have been treated, they have been released. I assume they are going to be speaking to police about their experiences and what they saw.

We are very, very grateful that we only have three pepper spray exposure cases to treat at this point. This could have been a lot worse, and we're extraordinarily pleased that the police response was so effective and quick on this. At this point, we are going to stay on scene as long as it takes until the police deem it safe and the bomb squad has done what they need to do.

But, at this point, there are no transports, and all of the patients we treated, we believe we have treated at this point.


AARON: I have something to add here really quick.

As the hazardous devices unit has examined the backpack that the suspect was wearing, they are not comfortable with what they are seeing. So, in a short amount of time, that backpack will be detonated by the bomb squad.

They have certain procedures that we will use. There will be a loud bang here in a short period of time, as the bomb squad works to ensure that this backpack that he was wearing is indeed safe. There's also another bag, satchel on the inside that the bomb squad, the hazardous devices unit is also going to have to deal with, but in short order, you are going to hear an announcement about a noise that is going to take place. That should not alarm you.

The noise will be the bomb squad using its methods to render safe this backpack that the suspect was wearing.



QUESTION: Can you talk about when you said they feel uncomfortable?

AARON: That's all I want to describe for it at this moment is that the bomb squad has done their cursory examination.

They're not comfortable with this laying there, so they are going to disrupt it, they're going to render it safe. You will hear an announcement over a P.A., there will be a noise. That should not concern you. That's what the noise is going to be.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) bag that was on the ground, the bag he was carrying.

AARON: My understanding that it's the bag that he had on him when he came out.

QUESTION: Where is that now?

AARON: It's at the back of the theater.

QUESTION: Don, what would you like to say to the public who knows about a shooting in Louisiana at a movie theater? Now we have got this incident. Should people be worried when they go to the movies tonight?

AARON: Well, I think Nashvillians should know that they have a very brave police department, a very well-trained police department, who came into this situation knowing what to do. Their training kicked in. They were here within a minute or two of this initial report.

This guy was confined to one place, and as he came out of the theater, emerged from the theater, the officers engaged him and he was fatally wounded. The threat at this theater is over as far as an active individual. We will now deal with bags or satchels he brought with him.

QUESTION: When they detonate the bomb (OFF-MIKE)

AARON: Don't call it a bomb.

QUESTION: I'm sorry. The pack, when they detonate this, what could the damage be to that area? Is this something that would shut down (OFF-MIKE)

AARON: No, no, no. The bombs -- the hazardous devices unit has certain procedures that it uses to render a satchel safe, to render -- to disrupt something, just to make sure that it doesn't pose any harm, doesn't pose any risk.

That's what they're going to be using, but there will be a loud bang when that happens.

QUESTION: How much longer will the theater be closes, and what other area restaurants and things like that will be closed for how long?

AARON: I don't know. I don't know.

Obviously, there was a significant discharge of chemical irritant, chemical stray inside the theater. I don't know what that is at this moment or how long it will take to dissipate or that type of thing. Obviously, there's also a satchel still inside the place that needs to be addressed.

So, I can't answer your question to a specific time.

QUESTION: Thank you, Don.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. We're beginning today with breaking news in our national lead.

You were just listening there to Don Aaron, a spokesman for the Nashville Police Department, describing how a suspect, a white male, 51 years old, wearing a surgical mask wielding a hatchet deployed a chemical spray, pepper spray inside a screening of "Mad Max" just about two hours or so ago.

The suspect then traded fire with police responding to the shooter at this movie in the area of Nashville, Tennessee, more specifically Antioch, Tennessee. The gunman is now dead. He was killed in a shoot-out with SWAT teams, we're told.

Let's go right to CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes.

Tom, what's your reaction upon hearing this press conference? They were talking about how it could have been a lot worse, but thankfully police were very close by because of a car accident.


Well, I think they're fortunate that the police were so close and also the quick response of the SWAT team, because you had an officer run into the theater first and exchange fire with the suspect, but then you hear that he backed down of the officer. That indicated to me the SWAT team arrived and was ready to deploy and said, OK, you can come out, because we're going to deploy.

And the SWAT team trains with each other. They're trying to avoid a friendly-fire situation or some mistake. They know their tactics. They know how they work together as a team. And I think that's why the officer was backed out, and then the SWAT team engaged this individual and killed him.

TAPPER: And if you're just joining us, we're talking about this attack on a movie theater in Antioch that is just outside the city of Nashville, Tennessee.

Three individuals were wounded, a 58-year-old male with a superficial wound to his shoulder or arm from some sort of hatchet or axe, and he also had injuries from pepper spray, and then two women, 53 years old and 17 years old, with injuries because of exposure to pepper spray.

And then the suspect, a 51-year-old local man, we're told, was killed in a shoot-out with police. Tom, when you hear about this incident, he had two backpacks, one of which had pepper spray, the other, we don't know what's in it, but the bomb squad is about to blow it up inside the theater, he had a gun, he had some sort of hatchet or axe, what was he looking to do?

FUENTES: Well, that is a good question. And you don't know in a situation like this.

Does he have a military background? Does he have an explosives background, where the backpack could be booby-trapped and ready to explode? The pepper spray, that could be pepper spray, but you could go also to a home supply store and buy these foggers to spray insects in your backyard or spray a large area.

[16:15:01] And that would be very irritating if you, you know, sprayed that in somebody's face. So, it could be something like that.

But it sounds a little bit like he didn't have a great plan. When you go in, you got a hatchet, you've got a gun, you've got a spray of some chemical device, it sounds like, what are you trying to do here? The good thing is because he was so disjointed I think led to not having somebody get killed before the police could take them out.

TAPPER: Let's bring in CNN's Boris Sanchez right now.

Boris, you've been covering his incident, it happened about two hours ago. What else can you tell us?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Jake, the good news that we've gotten just the past few minutes is that none of these injuries were severe. Only three people were hurt, as you just mentioned, a man that had a bruise on his shoulder, likely from the hatchet, as well as two women that were hit by pepper spray.

What we know is that investigators arrived at the scene, because someone ran out of the theater and alerted two officers who were responding to the call, rather, who were responding to an accident nearby. One of those officers went inside the theater and confronted the gunman. At that point the gunman opened fire on him. The officer returned fire and then got out of the theater.

The SWAT team was called, and apparently as the gunman was trying to exit that theater, a SWAT team took him out. He was found wearing a surgical mask, two backpacks, a hatchet, that gun and pepper spray, as you heard from the public information officer a few moments as, the contents of one of those backpacks making the bomb squad uncomfortable. That backpack is about to be detonated.

Again, we still have to wait to find out exactly what may have led that 51-year-old white male from the Antioch area to do this. The good news, though, again, only three people hurt with minor injuries, nothing too severe.

TAPPER: All right, Boris Sanchez.

Tom, obviously, a lot of poem remember just a few weeks ago the shooting at the movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana, also an older white male obviously way too soon to tie to the other. But the FBI dispatch from Memphis I believe is going to be looking into what happened here. Will that be one of the possibilities they investigate whether or not this was a copycat incident?

FUENTES: Right. They'll be looking at that. They'll be looking at, is he a member of a white supremacist group? And, you know, when they go to his room and search his residence, get files, get papers, talk to neighbors, friends, family members, can they put together a profile of him that indicates that maybe he had, you know, some type of white hate, anti-government, anti-everybody type attitude that might have led to this. So, they'll be looking at that. They'll be also seeing if there's any needs for additional forensic assistance in doing the crime scene there. But this sounds like somebody that was, you know, luckily, very inept. You go into a theater, even if there's only a couple of dozen people, that is -- these people are right there.

TAPPER: Right.

FUENTES: This is the easiest situation there is to kill people and he didn't accomplish that. So, the fact that with the gun, with the hatchet, with however he had, the pepper sprayer, he didn't manage to significantly hurt anybody else, and now he's dead. So, luckily, he wasn't either well-trained, well-equipped or he was mentally incapable of carrying off a more dangerous and more deadly attack than what we saw.

TAPPER: One of the other things you hear about when there are incidents like this is the term suicide by cop, individuals who commit suicide by provoking the police to shoot them. That's also, I suspect, something that law enforcement will be exploring?

FUENTES: They'll explore that. That might be something they never know, you know, did he -- were they just lucky all the patrons in here that nobody was killed? That he was spraying them with the chemical and the hatchet? You would think that would not be difficult to really do harm to unarm person with a hatchet. And he had a firearm.

So, did he just go in and do stuff that would cause the police to respond, as you say, than have the police kill him, where he doesn't kill anybody innocent? So, it could be in his own mind, you know, to be famous and yet commit suicide by cop without killing innocent people, maybe.

TAPPER: Boris Sanchez, what can you tell us about what witnesses to this event that could have been much, much worse, but certainly was terrifying for many people in Tennessee, what are the witnesses saying?

SANCHEZ: Well, I'm just combing over something that Maddy Sanchez, a witness who spoke to CNN earlier mentioned to us. She works at the Sprint store near this movie theater, a Sprint store that was locked down shortly after the shooting.

And she says that earlier in the day, about 11:00, a man wearing two backpacks tried to get into the back of the store, through a backdoor, she didn't confront him, someone else did. And she said that person told him he shouldn't be there.

She says this man had two backpacks, and obviously we heard from the public information officer now that the gunman was in that area and also had two backpacks. This was earlier in the day, so it's an unconfirmed report. But if so, it may be that the shooter was looking for potentially an escape route if we do confirm that that was him going through that area.

[16:20:01] Again, we have confirmed from employees at the store that police went there looking for any potential exits. They asked employees if the store was connected in any way to the theater physically, if there may have been a door or a pathway that may have led to the theater. So, it may be the case that earlier in the day, the gunman was exploring his options, if again, we confirm that that was in fact him.

She says that after a short while, once the scenes had calmed down, investigators re-approached the store and allowed them to unlock it, essentially allowed the employees to go.

But, still, a lot of questions unanswered, Jake.

TAPPER: If you're just joining us, we're covering a story out of Antioch, Tennessee. That's in the Nashville area.

A 51-year-old local man went into a movie theater, the Carmike Hickory 8, where a showing of "Mad Max" was interrupted by him using pepper spray, wielding a gun and an ax, injuring three individuals. He was killed in a shootout with police. Luckily, no other more serious injuries of anyone else.

CNN justice correspondent Pamela Brown joins us now.

Pamela, the FBI you say is looking into this. What more can you tell us about their role in this investigation? What are they looking for?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. Both the ATF and the FBI have responded to the scene, Jake. And the first line of action here is, of course, the evidence response teams will be there processing the crime scene. But also what will happen is they're going to want to look at the background of the shooter, who we know now -- know from officials there on the ground that this is a 51-year- old man, who is a local, who lived there in the area.

So, the FBI will want to go to that person's home, look through the electronics and see, of course, if there were any warnings signs. What was behind this? Did he have mental issues? Was this an act of terrorist? They're going to want to answer all of those questions.

But, right now, they're just now arriving on the scene, processing it, to piece together what happened.

As we learn the details, though, Jake, it does stand out to law enforcement officials, how unusual this is. The fact that this is someone who clearly have planned to some extent, he had pepper spray and was wearing a surgical mask, got a hatchet and a gun, and yet no one was hit by gunfire thank goodness, it is odd that more didn't happen in between the time the government arrived and, you know, police arrived on the scene. Now, we know they were very fortunate that officers were nearby, responding to a crash. But it does raise questions as to what this gunman was trying to accomplish there today.

TAPPER: Tom Fuentes, how does the FBI get involved in something like this? Does the local government have to request the FBI? Or does the FBI just dispatch itself? FUENTES: Both. If local law enforcement wants assistance and it's

clearly a local matter, the FBI will come in and assist, the ATF will come in, marshals, whoever they ask will come, if they ask for it.

However, the FBI has primary jurisdiction in domestic and international terrorism. So, if there's a possibility this could be a terrorist act, they're going to want to look at that first and try to rule that out. And just because the 51-year-old white male, it doesn't mean that it wasn't a domestic terrorist act.

If you recall, we had a shooting at the Holocaust Museum here in Washington. It was committed by a man in his 80s, and the reason he did was the group, the white supremacist group he belonged to for 25 years kicked him out, saying you're too old. He said, "I'll show you". He showed up here and kill the guard and wounded another guard and ultimately he died in jail before he went to trial.

But, you know -- so a person can be alone or with a group, young or old and belong to any number of groups. And so, that's what the FBI would be trying to rule out that this is not part of some domestic terrorist group that may want to do continuing attacks in other theaters or other locations.

TAPPER: And when you hear about a 51-year-old white man involved in a shooting like this, is it automatically assumed white supremacist terrorist group? Or is it just --

FUENTES: No, nothing is assumed.

TAPPER: Nothing is assumed at all. They just go into his computer and see what they thought.


They go into everything -- I mean, his computer, his cell phone, the emails that he sent, the friends, neighbors, relatives, co-workers. They will try to put the complete picture of those gentleman together, his mental condition, his physical condition, and if he has ever expressed either in writing or to a friend, or someone in person, a desire to kill other people, or kill himself, or what kind of problems he's having in his life. So, no, the investigators go into this with a completely open mind, but that's it. They have to be opened to the possibility it could be terrorism, it could be just one more individual with a mental health issue and a firearm.

TAPPER: All right. Tom Fuentes, thank you so much.

Boris Sanchez, Pamela Brown, thank you as well.

Much more ahead on the investigation into this movie theater shooting in Tennessee.

Also ahead in our world lead, Malaysia's prime minister declaring that the debris found on an island in the Indian Ocean is, in fact, part of missing Flight 370.

[16:25:03] But are investigators any closer to finding out what caused the plane to crash? That story is next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're going to continue to follow the breaking news out of the Nashville area here on THE LEAD.

Police say that a shooter toting a gun and hatchet, pepper sprayed people inside a movie theater while wearing a surgical mask. The man is described as a 51-year-old white male local man. He is now dead after an exchange of gunfire with local police. Thankfully, fire officials say that his death is the only serious injury -- his death in this entire episode. We'll bring you more information as it comes in to CNN.

But there is much more breaking news. In our world lead today -- a potentially major discovery of the disappearance of Flight MH370.

The Malaysian prime minister today saying that the piece of debris found on Reunion Island last week does indeed belonged to the missing airliner.