SAN DIEGO — A Saturday afternoon at the movies was interrupted by gunfire when police shot an armed domestic violence suspect in a Carmel Mountain theater among startled patrons.
No one else was wounded in the 3:50 p.m. shooting at Reading Cinemas Carmel Mountain 12 on Carmel Mountain Road.
The suspect, identified as Tom Billodeaux, 20, of Escondido, was taken to Palomar Medical Center with gunshot wounds to the arm and chest, said homicide Lt. Ernie Herbert. Billodeaux is expected to survive and be jailed after his released from the hospital.
About 15 moviegoers were in the theater when officers spotted the suspect sitting alone, said San Diego homicide Capt. Terry McManus.
He lifted his hands briefly at the officers’ commands, McManus said. But then he put his hands back in his lap and brought them up again, this time holding a handgun, the captain said.
The officers felt their lives were in jeopardy, “and more importantly, they thought the lives of others were in jeopardy,” McManus said.
One of the two officers opened fire, wounding the man. Herbert said the officer who fired has been on the department for a year and a half.
People ran out of the theater and hid behind cars or took refuge in nearby businesses, witnesses said.
“We saw four cops with assault rifles go by us, toward the theater,” said Todd Cope, an employee at the Wave Lines store nearby. “Moments later, a lady came in here and said she had heard a gunshot.”
His co-workers locked the gate that covers the front door of the store.
“It was a little bit crazy,” he said.
The shooting comes just a day after an employee at a San Marcos movie theater was injured by a stray shot fired in the parking lot during a gang fight, and six months after a gunman fired on a theater in Aurora, Colo., leaving 12 moviegoers dead.
“Certainly it’s safe to go to the movies,” McManus said of the heightened sensitivity around recent assaults.
The incident began about two hours earlier, when the suspect left a suicide note at his home and went to confront his girlfriend in a parking lot across the street from the theater.
The 19-year-old woman was in her car taking a lunch break from work about 2 p.m. when he approached, police said. She tried to return to her job at a business nearby, but he grabbed her from behind. Witnesses who saw the violence tried to intervene, but he threatened them with a handgun.
The woman’s boss saw the scuffle and called 911. The gunman then ran across the street, to the busy shopping plaza with the movie theater.
Officers arrived within three minutes and began to search the area.
Employees at surrounding businesses said officers swarmed the parking lot and stopped all cars, checking back seats and asking drivers to pop their trunks in their search for the suspect.
Officers with dogs checked each storefront, while a police helicopter assisted overhead.
It was about 3:40 p.m. when a pair of women exited the theater and asked police what all the commotion was about. When they described the man they were looking for, the women said that he sounded like a man who had just been in the theater with them, watching a movie.
The manhunt then shifted to Reading Cinemas as police with guns drawn methodically combed each theater and evacuated staff and customers.
It was not clear how close the other patrons were seated to the man when he was shot. Authorities did not say what movie was being shown at the time. The gunmen never made any threats to customers in the theater, McManus said. It was more a place where he likely thought he could escape and blend in. The man had bought a ticket to enter the theater, authorities said.
The moviegoers who were with the man during the shooting gathered at a carpet business as they waited to be interviewed by investigators.
A woman who answered the phone at Contract Carpet said the moviegoers recounted that they were told at some point to get on the ground by police during the incident, and that they were all pretty shaken.
Reading Cinema’s district manager, Jennifer Deering, released a statement saying theater staff worked with police to evacuate the building
“We are thankful that everyone, including our guests and staff, involved in today’s incident is safe and was unharmed,” Deering said.
She said patrons can get refunds for any tickets purchased in advance for movies that would have shown during the police activity. Theater guests may call (858) 674-6164 for inquiries or assistance with refunds.
Staff writer Katherine Poythress contributed to this story.