WESLEY CHAPEL — The fatal movie-theater shooting in Pasco County this week has resonated with people far beyond the Tampa Bay area.
The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office reports fielding media calls from such far-flung locales as Hollywood and South America as people seek answers to how a Monday afternoon outing to a movie ended with a the father of a 3-year-old dead and a retired Tampa police captain in jail on a second-degree murder charge.
Sheriff Chris Nocco, who has been interviewed by Nancy Grace of HLN and Piers Morgan of CNN among others, said there’s an explanation for why the shooting struck such a nerve nationally and beyond.
“I think the location is the reason for the attention,” he said.
A movie theater, Nocco said, is usually a place people go to relax. They feel safe. It’s a place “we don’t have to worry something bad is going to happen to us,” he said.
The shot that investigators say Curtis Reeves, 71, fired Monday afternoon, killing 43-year-old Chad Oulson of Land O’ Lakes, violated that sense of safety, the sheriff said.
Movie theaters invoke another image, too, though. In 2012, a theater in Aurora, Colo., was the scene of a mass killing and Nocco acknowledged that scenario was on his mind when he heard initial reports Monday and rushed to the Cobb Grove 16 Theatre in Wesley Chapel.
During training, Nocco had seen pictures of fire trucks lined up in the back of the Aurora theater as people were exiting.
As he arrived at the Wesley Chapel theater, he saw fire trucks and the image from training leaped to mind.
“It was almost deja vu,” he said. “We were going up on the scene with the worst-case scenario on our minds.”
In this case, there was no mass shooter. It was an isolated incident, an altercation that began with a dispute over Oulson texting on his cellphone during the previews before a showing of “Lone Survivor.”
The exchange of angry words escalated and ended with Oulson throwing a bag of popcorn at Reeves, and Reeves pulling a .380-caliber semiautomatic pistol from his pants pocket and shooting Oulson in the chest, the sheriff’s office reported. Oulson’s wife, Nicole, 33, was shot in the hand by the same bullet that killed her husband. She was later treated and released at a Tampa hospital.
Nocco said he is proud of how his deputies responded and handled the situation. It quickly became apparent that the shooter was still inside Theater 10 in the multi-screen theater, but had been disarmed and detained by Cpl. Alan Hamilton, an off-duty Sumter County deputy who happened to be there to watch the movie.
The first image of Reeves many people saw was a photograph taken from a news helicopter. He was outside the theater, dressed in a white jumpsuit, his hands cuffed in front of him.
A lone deputy stood several feet in front of him.
While it might appear Reeves was under lax security right after the shooting, Nocco said that was not the case. Several deputies were near Reeves, just outside the frame of the photograph, he said. Sheriff’s investigators had given Reeves the white outfit because they had taken his clothing for evidence.
“We had just removed his clothes, so we knew he had no weapons,” the sheriff said. “There were plenty of people around. We were not going to allow him to escape or harm anyone.”
Nocco rejects any suggestion the sheriff’s office has given Reeves preferential treatment because he is a former law enforcement officer.
“I can tell you point blank, we acted professionally,” Nocco said. “He was treated like any other citizen.”
In the Land O’ Lakes Jail, where Reeves remained Wednesday after a judge refused him bail, some allowances did have to be made because of his law enforcement background. He is isolated from the other inmates, which is standard practice in such a situation, Nocco said.
Reeves wore a protective knee-length smock when he appeared on video from the jail during his first-appearance hearing in court Tuesday afternoon. Such smocks often are used for suicide prevention.
Nocco declined to say whether Reeves is under suicide watch, only saying that the smock is “for safety precautions for the arrested individual.”