The tale as told by the Pasco County sheriff’s office, a witness and the victim’s friends is of a fatal clash between two Navy veterans who happened to sit near each other in a movie theater. A woman would later come forward and tell prosecutors that two weeks earlier at the movies, Mr. Reeves had menaced her for texting as well, describing a man in sharp contrast to the generous and kind neighbor the people on his block describe.
“What’s he bringing a gun to the movies for?” said Charles Cummings, a 68-year-old former Marine who was in the row ahead of Mr. Reeves and described him as “aggressive.” “That’s a happy place. No one is going to kill you there, except that he did go there and kill someone.”
“Lone Survivor,” a movie about a covert Navy SEAL operation, was set to start at 1:20 that Monday afternoon. The lights had dimmed halfway. The previews were being shown while stragglers made their way to the plush seats.
Only about 25 people attended the showing, among them a nurse and an off-duty sheriff’s deputy.
In front of Mr. Reeves was Chad W. Oulson, 43, of Land O’ Lakes, Fla., a finance manager at a local motorcycle dealership. Mr. Oulson was a 6-foot 4-inch motorcycle enthusiast, whose 22-month-old daughter, Alexis, was at home with a babysitter and not feeling well. So Mr. Oulson defied technology etiquette and texted the sitter. The light from his phone was visible in the semidarkness.
Mr. Cummings remembers Mr. Reeves kicking the seat in front of him.
“He was agitated,” Mr. Cummings said.
Mr. Reeves asked Mr. Oulson to quit texting. Mr. Oulson kept at it, explaining that he was just communicating about a preschooler. Mr. Reeves left in a huff to get a manager, but he returned alone.
Mr. Oulson complained about being tattled on, and the two men exchanged more words. The words got louder. That’s when Mr. Oulson made what would turn out to be a fatal move.
“He stood up,” said Joseph Detrapani, a friend of Mr. Oulson’s, who heard the story later. “That was it.”
This was a boutique theater with rows of large seats that are elevated from one another, with a foot and a half of legroom between them. Mr. Oulson turned to face Mr. Reeves and swung the popcorn bag at his side; kernels struck Mr. Reeves’ face.
Mr. Reeves, a co-founder of the Tampa Police Department’s first tactical response team, reacted. Struck in the face by what he told police was a “dark object,” he reached for his .380 and fired, just as his son, Matthew, also a police officer, entered the theater. Mr. Oulson’s wife, Nicole, had placed her hand on her husband’s chest and was struck in the finger.
Mr. Oulson was hit once in the chest. The people nearby laid him down on the floor and rested his head on Mr. Cummings’s foot. Mr. Cummings’s son called for help while the nurse in the audience rendered aid.
Police said Mr. Reeves sat down calmly, put the gun on his lap and stared ahead. A sheriff’s deputy from nearby Sumter County who saw the muzzle flash snatched the weapon from him. Police said Mr. Reeves resisted at first and then acquiesced.
The gun was jammed.
At 1:30, a call came over the police radio that someone had been shot at the theater. The police feared the worst and prepared to respond to mass casualties.
“When you hear this come over the radio, I can tell you, your heart drops,” Sheriff Chris Nocco told reporters.
Mr. Reeves’s clothes were taken for evidence, and he was taken to jail in a hazmat suit. TV cameras showed him walking up to the police cruiser as if it were his own, with no officer escorting him close behind.
His lawyer, Richard Escobar, said Mr. Reeves, who is charged with second-degree murder, acted in self-defense. He suggested that Mr. Reeves was hit in the face with something other than popcorn, and had every right to defend himself with deadly force.0