On Wednesday night, the Nashville police identified the suspected attacker as Vincente David Montano, 29. Earlier in the day, Aaron had said police first believed the attacker was 51.
While authorities had initially described Montano as a gunman and said he had a firearm, on Wednesday night the Nashville police said it turned out he actually had an airsoft pistol — a replica that can shoot pellets or BBs — rather than a real gun.
Police were called to the scene just before 1:15 p.m. local time for reports of “an active shooter” inside the Carmike Hickory 8 movie theater in Antioch, southeast of downtown Nashville, Aaron said during a news conference. Less than an hour after officers were called, police reported that the “active shooter situation” was over and the man initially described as a gunman was dead.
“We believe the imminent threat has been ended,” Aaron said.
In a bizarre scene that came not long after an attack inside a Louisiana movie theater killed two moviegoers and injured several others, Aaron said that a man with a surgical mask over his face and a backpack on his chest filled a theater with pepper spray.
This person entered the projection room during a screening of “Mad Max: Fury Road” on Wednesday afternoon before continuing inside the theater, Aaron said.
One of the officers who first responded went into the theater and encountered the gunman, who “raised his weapon toward that officer and pulled the trigger,” Aaron said. The officer fired at the attacker and backed away from the theater, Aaron said.
When the SWAT team arrived, the air inside the theater was so thick the officers had to get gas masks before trying to engage with the hatchet-wielding man. The man identified later as Montano emerged from the back of the theater and was ultimately shot and killed by Nashville police officers, Aaron said.
Montano was the only one shot at the theater, Aaron added.
However, the man had two bags with him, and authorities check the bags to make sure there was no additional danger, he said. An hour after the active shooter situation was deemed over, one of the bags was detonated by a bomb squad to “render it safe,” as Aaron put it before the detonation.
Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives responded to the theater and were examining the area.
A man identified by police only as “Steven,” who was in the theater and was exposed to pepper spray, briefly spoke with reporters on Wednesday afternoon.
“I am eternally grateful for the Metro police department for their fast response today and for the fact that no one else got injured other than the person who did this,” said Steven, who was introduced by a police spokesman and did not take any questions.
Steven said that he was given no indications of why the attack unfolded. He added that he does not want any fame or notoriety for this, saying that he and his family “were not looking for any of this.” In addition, Steven thanked first responders and the other people in the area who helped him and his daughter after they were pepper-sprayed.
“That kind of gives me a little more faith in humanity again,” he said.
Police were able to be at the scene within minutes because officers were responding to a crash just off the movie theater property, Aaron said.
“We’re very grateful we only have three pepper spray exposures to treat at this point,” Brian Haas, a spokesman for the Nashville Fire Department, said at a news conference. “This could have been a lot worse. And we’re extraordinarily pleased the police response was so effective and quick on this.”
The nearby Ford Ice Center closed for the rest of the day due to the incident, the Nashville Predators, an NHL hockey team, announced in a news release. The Academy at Hickory Hollow, a part of the metropolitan Nashville public school system also near the theater, was placed on lockdown due to the shooting, but no students were in the building, the school system said in a statement.
A Nashville theater that screens independent and documentary films said Wednesday afternoon that it wanted moviegoers to leave large backpacks and bags in their cars or at home to put others at ease.
The report of an active shooter inside a movie theater occurred than two weeks after a gunman opened fire inside a Lafayette, La., movie theater about 650 miles away from this shooting. In that case, a gunman killed two people and injured nine before taking his own life.
Meanwhile, both incidents took place while a jury in Colorado is readying to consider a possible death sentence for the man convicted of killing 12 people and injuring 70 others inside a theater there in 2012. Jurors in that trial were allowed to stay on despite exposure to the Lafayette shooting and are in the final part of the penalty phase, which means they will soon decide if that gunman should face life in prison or be sentenced to death.
“I just couldn’t believe this was happening again,” Eric Vale, 32, an Uber driver who was dropping off passengers in the parking lot when he heard shots rang out, told the Tennesseean on Wednesday.
This post has been updated numerous times with new information. I referred to the attacker as a gunman for several hours, based on the police saying the man had a gun and calling it an “active shooter situation,” but that has been revised after they said he did not have a gun. First published: 3:12 p.m.