He carried a hatchet and a fake gun and had a backpack strapped to his body, police said.
Vincente Montano walked into a theater at Antioch’s Carmike Hickory 8 just after 1 p.m. Wednesday. Seven other people were in the theater to see “Mad Max.”
Police are working to determine why Montano was there. Why Montano allegedly sprayed three people with pepper spray and wounded one man with the hatchet. Why, they say, he acted threatening toward officers shortly before he died.
The 29-year-old man had been arrested at least once in Murfreesboro, had significant mental health issues and was committed four times in 11 years, Metro police spokesman Don Aaron said.
Montano’s mom told police two days before her son’s death that she had not seen Montano since 2013, according to a Murfreesboro police report. It is unclear why the missing person report was made this week. The report says Montano’s mother was told by a Texas law enforcement officer in May she needed to file the report.
The report also says Montano was homeless, and his mother said he had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. The woman told police Montano had other health issues and had a hard time taking care of himself. Montano’s mother could not be reached by The Tennessean on Wednesday.
The chaos at the Antioch theater happened in 41 minutes. The incident was first reported as an active shooter situation at 1:13 p.m. Police said the suspect died at 1:54 p.m.
In that time, police said, Montano sprayed three people — a 53-year-old woman, a 17-year-old girl and a 58-year-old man — with pepper spray. The man also suffered a minor cut to his shoulder from the hatchet, police said.
That man, identified only as Steven, gave a brief and emotional statement after the shooting, thanking police for a quick response.
“I’d also like to thank all of the citizens who gathered around us, helped my daughter when we were pepper-sprayed,” he said. “That kind of gives me a little more faith in humanity again.”
Councilwoman Jacobia Dowell, whose District 32 includes the movie theater, said she intends to invite the other southeast Metro Council representatives, neighborhood leaders and the community to a future showing of “Mad Max” at the theater. She wants to send a strong message that this incident will not define Antioch.
“We’re not going to live our lives in fear,” Dowell said. “We are a very resilient community.”
According to police, here’s what is known about the Wednesday attack:
Witnesses told two police officers working a traffic crash nearby that there was a situation at the movie theater. A third officer joined them, and the trio entered the theater. None of the officers were identified publicly Wednesday.
One of the officers engaged the suspect.
“He saw a gun come up,” Police Chief Steve Anderson said. “He saw a trigger about to be pulled. He disengaged.”
The first-responding officers regrouped outside and made sure people in the theater could exit safely.
At the time, officers did not know the gun was a fake — an Airsoft-style weapon that fires plastic BBs. Police later recovered the weapon and noted its realistic look. In pictures released by police, the weapon does not have an orange tip, which is usually on toy guns to indicate they are not real.
The SWAT team arrived.
“As they were making entry, the suspect went to the back door, exhibited himself several times to the officers,” Anderson said. “When he came at them in a threatening manner, they opened fire and the suspect is deceased.”
The gunfire rang out during people’s lunches at nearby restaurants. The gunfire disrupted, but did not stop, the noontime prayers at the Islamic Center of Tennessee down the street. The gunfire sent some businesses into lockdown. Some businesses closed for the day as, nearby, a bomb squad determined the backpack contained a hoax device.
The incident sparked outcry in support of and in opposition to recent legislation in Tennessee that allows guns to be carried in parks. Some lawmakers called for more access to guns to prevent violence.
Dr. Jonathan Metzl, director of the Center for Medicine, Health and Society at Vanderbilt University, disagrees.
“On one hand, if we take the frame of public health, there is a pretty good body of evidence on what we need to do as a society to prevent shootings. In some instances, it seems we’re going directly backward in Tennessee,” Metzl said. “We know from a growing body of research everyday shootings happen more when there’s more access to guns.”
The same day the chaos unfolded in Middle Tennessee, family members of victims killed in a movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., in 2012 testified in the sentencing phase of the trial for that shooter, James Holmes. He could face the death penalty for murdering 12 people in the Aurora theater complex.
Wednesday’s violence also comes nearly two weeks after a theater shooting in Lafayette, La. Gunman John Houser killed two people and wounded nine others before fatally shooting himself.
Eric Vale, 32, an Uber driver, was dropping off passengers in the parking lot of the Antioch theater when shots rang out. He described it as “utter chaos.”
“I just couldn’t believe this was happening again,” he said.
This story is by Tennessean staff writers Stacey Barchenger, Holly Meyer, Holly Fletcher, Natalie Neysa Alund, Jordan Buie, Jill Cowan Nate Rau and Anita Wadhwani