Tampa Cinema Shooting – Sign of More Cinema Smartphone Rage to Come?

By | January 13, 2014 8:15 pm PST

A retired police officer in Tampa, Florida has been arrested after an argument over cell phone use in a multiplex escalated into a shooting, leaving a man dead and his wife injured. The incident happened Monday 1:30pm at the Cobb Cinema Grove 16 and CineBistro in Wesley Chapel near Tampa, Florida during the previews of Lone Survivor.

CNN provides a chronology of the events that happened:

As a male moviegoer texted, the man seated behind him objected, and asked the texter to put his phone away.

They argued several times, according to police and witnesses, and the man who was texting watched as the other man walked out of the theater. Charles Reeves, a retired police officer, apparently went seeking a theater employee to complain about the texting, police said.

Two seats away Charles Cummings and his son watched the squabbling.

When Reeves returned, he was without a manager.

“He came back very irritated,” Cummings said.

The man who had been texting, Chad Oulson, got up and turned to Reeves to ask him if he had gone to tell on him for his texting. Oulson reportedly said, in effect: I was just sending a message to my young daughter.

Voices were raised. Popcorn was thrown. And then came something unimaginable — except maybe in a movie. A gun shot.

Oulson was fatally wounded. His wife was hit, too, through the hand as she raised her hand in front of her husband as the shooter drew a handgun.

Oulson staggered toward the Cummings and fell on them, Charles Cummings said.

The shooter sat down and put the gun in his lap.

The alleged shooter, Curtis Reeves (71), is reported to be a retired police officer who left active duty in 1993 and worked as a security specialist until 2005. The victim was 43-year old Chad Oulson, whose daughter that he was texting is three years old.

Cobb Theatres issued a statement saying:

“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 sheriff’s 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.”

The website is currently dark and the cinema is closed until further notice. CNN notes that “in the theaters’ website is a list of prohibited items and actions. Among them: No cell phone use, including texting, in the theater auditorium. And no weapons allowed.”

News sites are quick to remind people of the 2012 Colorado shooting when gun man James Holmes killed twelve people and injured almost 70 at a screening of The Dark Knight Rises. Gun crime is, however, all too common in US, with a less reported incident of a man shot outside a Starplex cinema in South Fort Worth, Texas two days earlier, only being reported in local news.

A larger spectre of ‘smart phone rage’ in cinema looms, with anger directed at people who keep their small screen shining while those around them try to focus on the big screen. With airlines now allowing the use of smart phones aboard, cinema is one of the last phone-free places, but only if people adhere to the polite reminders to ‘Turn Your Phone Off’.

The age of the victim and the suspect are also telling; these were not kids or gang members having it out on a rowdy weekend night screening. It was a pensioner telling off a grown man during a matinee showing. Note also that the alleged shooter was unable to find a manager in the multiplex or did not get the response to his complaint that he wanted. While we may see isolated incidents of extreme reactions like this again, the larger response to smartphone use in cinemas will be that older people get annoyed to the point where they simply stop going to the cinema. It would be surprising if John Fithian, NATO’s President, did not touch upon this incident and issue during his keynote at the upcoming CineCon 2014 convention.

UPDATE: A statement has been issued by NATO, which reads:

“We extend our sympathies to the victims of today’s incident. Despite the tragic altercation in a Florida movie theatre, which as reported is an isolated incident, movie theatres are a safe and enjoyable entertainment destination for millions of people.

“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.”

NATO’s anti-piracy trailer which begins “TEXTING IS RUDE” has taken on an additional sad significance.

Patrick von Sychowski
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Patrick von Sychowski

Patrick was a Senior Analyst at Screen Digest, went on to launch the digital cinema operations of Unique and Deluxe Europe, then digitised Bollywood at Adlabs/RMW, and now writes, consults and appears on panels about cinema all over the world.
Patrick von Sychowski
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