Prosecutors: This Wasn’t the First Blow-Up for Florida Theater Shooter
A few weeks before a texting dispute turned deadly inside a Florida theater, suspect Curtis Reeves had another run-in with a moviegoer, prosecutors said.
During Reeves’ first court appearance on Tuesday, prosecutors said they had heard from another theater patron who said the 71-year-old former Tampa cop saw her texting and “glared at her the entire time throughout the movie” during a screening about three weeks ago.
When the woman got up to use the restroom, Reeves followed her and “made her very uncomfortable,” prosecutors said.
CNN affiliate WTSP later identified the woman as Jamira Dixon of Wesley Chapel, the Tampa suburb where Monday’s shooting took place.
“He became just upset about the whole situation and kept staring and kept giving us dirty looks,” Dixon told the station.
Dixon said she first heard about Monday’s shooting on the radio while she was driving.
“I had to pull over the car because … it could have been us,” she said. “It was just so close to home. It really makes you think how things could have went.”
An argument, then a shot
The shooting happened early Monday afternoon at the Grove 16 theater, just before an afternoon showing of “Lone Survivor,” a film about a Navy SEAL mission.
Reeves was with his wife and sat behind Chad Oulson, 43, and his wife, authorities said. Oulson was using his cell phone during the previews before the film 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 Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco told CNN 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.
Police said Tuesday that Oulson was texting his young daughter’s babysitter.
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, police said.
The Grove complex, including the theater where the shooting took place, reopened Wednesday.
A thin crowd trickled in to see “The Wolf of Wall Street,” CNN affiliate WTSP reports. Complex owner Cobb Theatres hired off-duty Pasco County sheriff’s deputies to patrol the area — at a level typical for a Friday or Saturday night, the station said.
A theater employee told WTSP that the staff had actually gone through a training session the day of the shooting to help prepare them for an emergency, a precaution inspired by the theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado, that occurred in the summer of 2012.
Sheriff Nocco said the staff did an “outstanding” job of getting everyone out of the theater in an calm and orderly way.
Nocco is preparing a report to make sure all the department’s procedures were followed.
Standing his ground?
Reeves made his first court appearance Tuesday on a charge of second-degree murder.
His attorney, Richard Escobar, tried to persuade Circuit Court Judge Lynn Tepper that his client was actually the victim in the incident and that Oulson was the “aggressor.”
Police said despite Reeves’ claim that he was in fear for 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,” Nocco said.
Authorities said a preliminary investigation determined that there was no physical contact during the incident. It was popcorn, thrown by Oulson, that struck Reeves.
Tepper said there was no evidence to support the claim that the shooter was a victim. She denied him bond.
Outside Reeves’ home Wednesday were newly hung “No trespassing” signs.
Who was the texting father?
Chad Oulson was a former U.S. Navy petty officer, serving from 1990 to 1997, according to spokeswoman Lt. Richlyn Neal.
Wednesday morning, a woman who said she was Oulson’s sister answered the door at his home in the Tampa suburb of Land O’ Lakes.
She declined to give her name but told a CNN reporter and producer that the family wasn’t going to make a public statement for a while, and that they were struggling with their grief and arranging a funeral for Oulson.
She did say, however, that Oulson has a daughter who is just under 2 years old.
Though the garage door was shut, a day earlier the Tampa Tribune reported that a reporter saw 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.”
“It is just going to be a huge hole in everybody’s lives for him and his family. He’d give you the shirt off his back if he needed to,” Joseph Trapani told CNN affiliate WFTS.
Theater violence is nothing new. Less than two years ago, an Aurora, Colorado, cineplex was the scene of a shooting massacre that left 12 people dead.
Theater chains had already moved to ban handguns. Cobb Theatres, which owns the Grove 16 and more than 120 other theaters, says posters displaying its zero weapons policy are posted on its front doors. Other chains have also stepped up safety measures.
Still, is that enough?
“The question is going to become: how are they enforcing them? Is a sign sufficient to give notice that you shall not bring a handgun on our premises?” CNN legal analyst Danny Cevallos asked.
There are theater chains that take it a step further, employing security guards at some locations to keep patrons safe.
“If somebody were to bring in a bag, for instance, they’re immediately going to spot something like that or if they’re acting unusual or nervous they would spot something like this, whereas a metal detector is only looking at one thing,” according to Howard Levinson, the president of Expert Security Consulting.
The National Association of Theatre Owners doesn’t comment publicly on theater security matters, but says “we encourage our patrons to remember that they are sharing a common wish to be entertained and to treat their fellow moviegoers with courtesy and respect.”
CNN’s Steve Almasy, Ashley Fantz, Martin Savidge, Devon Sayers, Kevin Conlon, Suzanne Presto, Tristan Smith and Jennifer Rizzo contributed to this report.