Charles Cummings and his son, Alex, settled into their seats at the Cobb Grove 16 Monday for the 1:20 p.m. show of Lone Survivor.
During the previews, a man sitting two seats away texted noisily on his phone. The man behind him, retired Tampa police officer Curtis Reeves, asked him to stop several times.
Reeves left for a few minutes and returned. An argument erupted. Popcorn flew. Then, authorities said, Reeves pulled out a pistol and fired at the man.
Chad Oulson, who had told the gunman he was sending text messages to his young daughter, responded with shock.
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"He said, 'I can't believe I got shot,' " Alex Cummings recalled. "There was a lot of confusion."
Two other patrons, both nurses, tried to revive Oulson with CPR, said Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco.
Oulson, 43, was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead.
His wife, Nicole, 33, who raised her hand to try to block the bullet, was taken to a hospital and was treated for hand injuries.
Immediately after firing, Reeves, 71, put his .380-caliber semiautomatic pistol on his right thigh, Nocco said. An off-duty Sumter County sheriff's deputy, also there to see the film about four Navy SEALs on a mission in Afghanistan, secured the weapon and made sure Reeves stayed put until deputies arrived. Nocco did not say whether the deputy was armed.
"He ran into the hot zone," said Nocco, who described the unnamed deputy as a "hero."
Reeves was arrested and charged with second-degree murder.
Nocco said 25 people were in auditorium 10 when the shooting happened about 1:30 p.m. Reeves' wife was with him during the shooting but was not involved.
"To have a retired police officer — I don't know what he was thinking at the time," Nocco said.
He said the initial call sounded "scary," and similar to random movie theater shootings.
"We were prepared for a large situation," he said.
Nocco said Reeves and Oulson had never met before.
"Fate brought these two people together," he said. "This was ridiculous."
Chad and Nicole Oulson lived in Connerton, a sprawling, well-kept suburban community off U.S. 41 in Land O'Lakes. They moved there about three years ago, said neighbor Saverio Mongelli, because it was halfway between both their jobs. Nicole Oulson works at USAA in New Tampa; Chad Oulson worked at Sky Powersports, an ATV and personal watercraft dealership in Port Richey. His usual days off were Sundays and Mondays.
This week, Nicole took Monday off so she and her husband could go on a date. They put their 22-month-old daughter, Alexi, in day care and went to the movies.
"He was a good, genuine person. I cannot believe this happened. He was just a funny guy," said Mongelli.
Tampa resident Casey Steege, a friend of 10 years, rented a room from the couple until just before their daughter was born in 2012.
Oulson worked hard and played hard, Steege said. He rode dirt bikes and liked to run his Baja speedboat down the Intracoastal Waterway to Clearwater Beach to have lunch at Frenchy's or Shepherd's and play on the sandbar.
"He brought life into every room. He was a big guy, a big character,'' Steege said.
Joseph Detrapani, another neighbor, said he couldn't believe Oulson's life ended in such a violent way. "He doesn't carry weapons, and he doesn't hold weapons."
Nocco said investigators looked into whether the shooting could be justified under the state's stand your ground law that allows a person to use deadly force if they feel threatened.
"It was not proven to us that it was a stand your ground incident," he said.
Theater patrons were evacuated after the shooting. Cobb Theatres' website said it would be closed until further notice.
"We hope and pray it will reopen by the end of the week," said Cobb spokeswoman Molly McFerran. She said a weapons ban had been in place at the theater since October 2012.
Charles Cummings, a former Marine and Vietnam veteran who left the theater with Oulson's blood on his clothes, said he was shocked and saddened by the incident, which took place on his 68th birthday.
"I can't believe anybody would bring a gun to a movie," he said.
Times staff writers Stephen Nohlgren, Arleen Spenceley and Rich Shopes and news researchers John Martin and Caryn Baird contributed to this report.