A 43-year-old father was shot dead by a retired cop in a Florida cinema after a row about him sending text messages as they waited for a movie to start, witnesses said.
Chad Oulson, who had been texting the daycare center that was looking after his daughter, Lexie, was shot in the chest by 71-year-old Curtis Reeves at about 1.20pm on Monday.
The victim’s wife, Nicole, was injured in the shooting after holding her hands out to try to shield Mr Oulson during the confrontation at a movie theater near Tampa on Monday.
‘The evidence of guilt is significant,’ Judge Lynn Tepper said, as she ruled that Reeves should be held without bond because of the severity of the charges.
Reeves, who is facing life in prison if found guilty, has been charged with second-degree murder. During a hearing on Tuesday he appeared via video link, wearing what appeared to be a green ‘suicide smock’ – a fire resistant outfit that can’t be ripped into shreds and used as a noose.
When questioned about the green smock Reeves wore to his hearing earlier that day, police refused to comment on whether it was a bullet proof vest, saying only it was for ‘his own protection’.
During the hearing, Reeves’ attorney said he ‘had every right to defend himself’ after the victim threw a bag of popcorn at him.
Reeves claimed that he was in fear of being attacked after being hit in the face by an unknown object, according to his arrest report.
At a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Detective Timothy Harris said: ‘There were words that were exchanged but no physical contact [between Reeves and Mr Ouslon].’
He added that the victim’s wife was shot in her ring finger by the same bullet that killed her husband.
‘She was doing her best to break up the argument. She had her husband’s chest,’ Detective Harris said.
When police arrived at the movie theater Reeves was found in his seat, staring straight ahead at the movie screen.
At the time of the shooting Reeves’ son, a Tampa Bay police officer, had just walked into the theater, where he was due to join his parents for the film. Police confirmed he was off duty, and said he had no part in the shooting.
The retired police captain and his wife, Vivian, had been sitting behind the Oulsons for a 1.20pm screening of the Mark Wahlberg film, Lone Survivor, when the confrontation took place
About 25 people were in the theater at the time and witnesses said they heard an argument between two men at the back of the room moments before.
Pasco County Sheriff’s officials said the shooting happened when Reeves, who was sitting with his wife, Vivian, asked Mr Oulson to stop texting at the theater in Wesley Chapel, about a half hour north of Tampa.
After Reeves fired at his chest the victim was heard saying: ‘I can’t believe I got shot’, according to Fox News.
Detectives looked into whether the shooting could fall under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, but found that the criteria didn’t apply.
‘It ended almost as quickly as it started,’ sheriff’s spokesman Doug Tobin said. The sheriff’s office says an off-duty Sumter County deputy detained Reeves until police arrived.
Witness Charles Cummings, who was also at the screening, said before the argument he saw popcorn being thrown, ‘And then bang, he was shot’.
Mr Cummings and his son Alex, who was also at the screening, had blood on their clothes as they walked out of the theater.
Mr Cummings said the man in the back row, later identified as Reeves, got up and left the auditorium, presumably to get a manager.
But he came back after a few minutes and moments later, the argument between the two men resumed.
Officials said Mr Oulson asked Reeves if he reported him to management for using his phone.
Mr Cummings said the men started raising their voices and popcorn was thrown.
Authorities said Reeves took out a gun, and Mr Oulson’s wife put her hand over her husband, and that’s when Reeves fired his weapon, striking Mrs Oulson in the hand and her husband in the chest.
‘I can’t believe people would bring a pistol, a gun, to a movie,’ Mr Cummings said. ‘I can’t believe they would argue and fight and shoot one another over popcorn. Over a cellphone.’
Mr Cummings, a combat Marine in Vietnam, said Mr Oulson fell on to him and his son.
‘Blood started coming out of his mouth,’ Alex said. ‘It was just a very bad scene.’
Mr Cummings and an off-duty nurse began performing CPR on the victim.
A man sitting next to the shooter grabbed the gun out of his hand, and the suspect did not attempt to get away, Mr Cummings claimed.
Mr Oulson and his wife were taken by ambulance to a Tampa-area hospital, where he later died.
At the hearing on Tuesday, the court heard that Reeves had allegedly confronted a woman at a movie theater last month.
The judge was told that after hearing about the shooting on the news, a woman had contacted police to say Reeves had told her off for texting when she was watching a film on December 28.
Although she didn’t make a complaint at the time, the woman claimed Reeves had ‘glared at her the entire time throughout the movie and afterwards’ even following her to the rest room at one point.
A neighbor, Matthew Harris, told the Tampa Bay Times that Reeves had confronted him about 18 months ago for having his car stereo too loud.
‘He kind of snapped at me at first, but then he calmed down,’ Mr Harris said, adding that Reeves had told him he used to be in the police.
After his arrest on Monday, police spokeswoman Laura McElroy released a statement saying that Reeves had retired as a police captain in 1993.
She added that he had been instrumental in establishing the agency’s first tactical response team.
After he retired, Reeves worked security for the Busch Gardens theme park and was on the board of a neighboring county’s Crime Stoppers organization.
‘The victim was on his cellphone, he was texting. We believe he was making some kind of noise. This noise led to an altercation,’ Mr Nocco said in a press conference.
‘During that altercation, the suspect decided to pull out a .380 and he shoots the victim.’ The suspect, also sat with another person, opened fire in the couple sat in the row in front of him.
‘It’s absolutely crazy it would rise to this level over somebody just texting in a movie theater,’ the sheriff added.
‘When you hear there’s a shooting at a movie theater, the first thing you think is the worst. But I can tell our citizens this is an isolated incident,’ Sheriff Nocco said.
‘These are two people that fate just brought them together today,’ he continued.
Cobb Theatres released the following statement on Monday afternoon: ‘We are deeply saddened by the events that occurred earlier today, and our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.
‘The theatre is currently closed, and we are actively working with the sheriffâs office on this investigation. 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.’
If you, a friend or a family member find themselves in a situation such as this, please call the Law Office of Scott A. Ferris, P.A. at 305 670-3330 right away. Scott A. Ferris, Esq. is a licensed criminal law attorney who has been practicing law since 1987. He is available whenever you need him to defend your rights. Please learn about our firm at www.FerrisLawFirm.com.