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Wednesday, Sep 19, 2018
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Help offered to witnesses of fatal theater shooting

WESLEY CHAPEL — Hours after Chad Oulson was fatally shot inside a Wesley Chapel movie theater last month, Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco recommended that patrons inside the theater at the time of the shooting seek help from mental health experts.

“We know there were a lot of people involved in this incident,” Nocco said. “We also know that mental health is critical because we talk about things (such as) post traumatic stress. There’s going to be a lot of people that were inside this theater when this happened. Please go on the Pasco Sheriff’s Office Facebook page. We have information and a phone number for our victim advocates.”

The sheriff said people who witnessed the shooting, or were inside the theater during the shooting, may need help.

“We want people out there to reach out to us. It could be a week from now, it could be a month from now, it could be six months from now. You don’t know when it’s going to hit you.”

On Jan. 13, Chad Oulson was with his wife, Nicole Oulson, at the Cobb Grove 16 Theatre to watch “Lone Survivor.” During the previews and before the feature film began, Chad Oulson texted the couple’s babysitter to check on their 22-month-old daughter, Alexis, authorities said.

Former Tampa police captain Curtis Reeves Jr. confronted Oulson about the texting, according to the Pasco Sheriff’s Office. That led to an argument, and Reeves pulled a .380-caliber semiautomatic pistol from his pants pocket and shot Oulson in the chest.

Reeves, 71, is charged with second-degree murder. Bond was denied for Reeves on Friday, and he remains in the Land O’ Lakes jail.

A short time after the shooting, sheriff’s office officials placed a message on their Facebook page: “Victims who witnessed the shooting who would like some help are asked to contact the Pasco County Communications Office at 727-844-7711 and ask for the [sheriff’s office] Victim Advocate Unit. The Victim Advocate Unit can assist with getting the help you need.”

Local mental health professionals agree there could be many who need help.

Those affected by the Jan. 13 shooting can vary by their level of involvement, according to Debra Lyublanovits, a clinical manager for Crisis Center of Tampa Bay. Those affected can range from people inside Theater 10 who heard or saw the shooting, to family members of the victim and the shooter, Lyublanovits said.

“It kind of has a ripple effect,” she said.

There is a list of things Lyublanovits said people should watch for in themselves or family members or friends.

“In an adult, all of a sudden you’re having problems eating or sleeping, you might start feeling like you’re going crazy,” Lyublanovits said. “Things don’t feel right. You may have flashbacks, seeing it replay or nightmares. It could be any of those things.

“When you’ve been through a trauma, your whole foundation has been shaken.”

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, one in four adults in America experience some type of mental illness in a year. That’s roughly more than 61 million people.

The organization also says one in 17 people, or nearly 14 million, live with serious illnesses such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder.

An incident such as the theater shooting could trigger a mental illness that may have gone previously undetected or not properly addressed.

“What we find is that often people are actually fine and some traumatic event will trigger the mental illness,” said Nancy Whitener, who has facilitated family support groups for NAMI Pasco over the past six years. “It could be myriad things.”

Whitener said everyday events such as car accidents, the birth of a baby, even work mishaps could trigger an issue with a person.

NAMI Pasco offers free discussion groups, workshops, and classes, among other activities, for those who suffer from mental illness or for the family or caregiver of that person.

Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel has a method by which people can call or visit for a free evaluation, said Gloria Strothers, NAMI Pasco president.

The most important part is moving though the stigma of needing help.

“Sometimes people are reluctant to acknowledge they might have something going on, and to be able to call might be really, really helpful to those people as a first step because there’s so much stigma wrapped around having a mental illness,” Strothers said. “I can see that really being helpful to people, because if they are kind of wondering, ‘Is there something going on?’ it would be a real good first step. Sometimes people don’t always really know.”

NAMI Pasco can be reached by calling: (727) 992-9653. Crisis Center Tampa Bay can be contacted by calling 211 or (813) 964-1964.

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