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Theater killing triggers flood of reaction from 'insanity' to 'only a matter of time'

By Ray Sanchez, CNN
updated 7:50 AM EST, Wed January 15, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Social media abuzz after shooting death at movie theater
  • Retired police officer in custody after moviegoer shot dead
  • Psychologist: Gun ownership and weapons in public spaces among issues raised
  • Commenters express disbelief, outrage over outcome in apparent dispute over texting

(CNN) -- A moviegoer asks another man to stop texting during the previews. Words are exchanged. One man leaves the theater. He returns and shoots to death the man who was texting, authorities say.

Sensational crimes always resonate with the public, but a shooting during a Monday matinee showing of "Lone Survivor" in the Tampa, Florida, area, has drawn more attention than usual -- generating more than 21,000 comments on CNN.com and another 1,000 comments on CNN's Facebook page.

Jeffrey Merin, a clinical psychologist in Tampa, said the shooting involving a retired police officer and a man texting his daughter from a movie house touched on issues that strike strong chords with ordinary Americans: gun ownership and the notion of weapons in public spaces, the shattering of the secure and protected cocoon of the moviegoing experience, the increasing scarcity of places considered safe, the growing intolerance of annoyances such as public texting and cell phone use.

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Theaters in particular were one of the last safe escapes from reality, Merin said.

"We don't have the ability to go someplace and be as safe as we once did," he said. "There is no escape. There is nothing more that creates fear and anxiety and panic -- two things: a lack of predictability and a lack of control. If there is not an ability to escape an area, that's a lack of control, and you certainly can't predict what's going to happen inside."

Monday's shooting in Florida ended with a 43-year-old man shot dead amid the theater seats, apparently for texting his daughter from his cell, and a 71-year-old retired police officer in custody.

In the aftermath of the shooting, heroes responded

At the least, the latest violence brought back memories of the July 20, 2012, shooting spree in a Colorado movie theater that took the lives of 12 people and wounded dozens more at the Batman movie "The Dark Knight Rises."

"People are in a very small contained area that they have no control, no escape," Merin told CNN. "It's a familiar place where a lot of people go all the time that creates a sense of helplessness in that they are captive to what might be going on. The association of the theater brings back memories of Aurora."

The latest crime, however, also resonates for other reasons.

"Perhaps at a different level, it also speaks to people's growing intolerance of annoyance and texting on your cell phone, any invasion of personal space is seen as an infraction of my rights, so I'm going to take proactive behaviors," Merin said. "I'm going to do something about it. Nobody is going to get away with this anymore."

On social media, people expressed outrage and disbelief at the tragic outcome to what many believed was a situation that could have been handled with common sense.

Topics related to the shooting, including the name of the Florida town, Wesley Chapel, trended on Twitter and continued to trend on Facebook late Monday through Tuesday afternoon. A variety of topics surfaced, but disbelief at the fatal assault dominated. Encountering rude or inappropriate behavior by others in public is not new.

"This is absolute insanity!" Melissa Theseed posted to Google+.

Jennifer Smalls expressed her frustration by posting to Facebook a statement that included the following, "Once again someone using a GUN to resolve his issue. ... How about you move to another seat? You shot and killed an unarmed man."

A tweet from @lexie_data said, "In some ways, it seemed like It was only a matter of time ---."

Many commenters on CNN.com talked about lack of civility -- both by the texter and the shooter, who they said, overacted.

James commented: "Once again, if you remove the gun from the equation no one would have died."

Someone using the handle traveler1978 replied: "WRONG ... if you removed the person of questionable mental state from the equation, no one would have died. The gun did nothing on (its) own, it takes a person to pull the trigger. Stop blaming inanimate objects for the actions of human beings. This man, police officer or not, had no business with a firearm, yet because of his past job as a police officer was accorded a permit that in most states the avg. citizen cannot get, and in fact is accorded the right by the federal government if he applies and meets certain qualifications. This (man's) actions prove that he should not have had a gun, or any other weapon, if he was willing to use lethal force over someone texting in a movie theater. Put the blame where it belongs."

Another commenter,GladImNotaDummycrat, wrote: "No one deserves to die over texting, but being rude can lead to even worst people elevating their game. I see this with road rage all the time. Some guy with no turn single just jams his car between two others and the guy behind slams on his brakes and the process starts. When they tell you to put away your cell phone before previews, do it. Secondly don't be a tough guy when another person has an issue with your rudeness."

Said Merin, "It brings in so many different aspects -- gun ownership, to who's carrying a gun and what environment. It's probably a cumulative affect that people are being subjected to.

"For the most part people are tolerant, and they have enough psychological insulation that they can protect themselves and they move on. Some people though, it sticks and accumulates, and they think about this, and it becomes intolerable, and they feel as though they are subjected to this in a very personalized way."

Opinion: Texting killing tells us one thing

CNN's David Williams and Dorrine Mendoza contributed to this report.

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