SAN DIEGO – Moviegoers at a San Diego theater ducked for cover as officers stormed in during a film screening and shot and critically wounded a gunman hiding in their midst.
No one else was hurt in the shooting Saturday inside Reading Cinemas Carmel Mountain in northern San Diego, officer David Stafford said.
The gunman, identified as 20-year-old Tom Billodeaux of Escondido, was taken to a hospital after being shot in the arm and chest, police said.
Billodeaux became the target of an intense police search after witnesses reported seeing him get into a fight with his girlfriend across the street from a shopping plaza where the Cineplex is located, Lt. Ernie Herbert said.
Witnesses tried to intervene, but he threatened them with a gun and ran to the shopping plaza.
The owner of a business next to the Cineplex said police shut down the shopping center's parking lot and stopped every car to look for the man. Officers with dogs checked each store, while a police helicopter hovered above.
"There were 20 police cars blocking the entrance, then the fire truck and the ambulance rushed in," Steve Krongard, the owner of the Nickel City arcade, said. "Then we saw seven cops with what looked like rifles, then paramedics went into the theater."
Herbert said police turned their attention to the Cineplex after learning that an armed man had ducked into the Cineplex.
Capt. Terry McManus told U-T San Diego that police searched theater by theater and evacuated moviegoers until two officers spotted him in a theater with about 15 others.
McManus said the man initially complied with officers' order to put his hands up, but then he put them back in his lap and brandished a handgun. He said one of the officers opened fire.
The officers thought their lives were threatened, he said, "and more importantly, they thought the lives of others were in jeopardy."
The theater's manager told Krongard the shooting occurred during a screening of "Les Miserables."
A moviegoer told KGTV the lights suddenly went on during the film and two officers came into the theater with their guns. Another witness told the station that everyone got on the floor and started heading for the exit doors.
McManus said the gunman never made any threats to others in the theater. He said the man had left a suicide note at his Escondido home before going to his girlfriend's workplace to confront her.
It was the second shooting at a San Diego County movie theater in as many days.
A concession worker suffered an arm injury when a shot fired outside a San Marcos movie theater went through the lobby window and struck her, sheriff's officials said.
The shooting occurred during a fight in the parking lot at Edwards San Marcos Stadium 18 and triggered a large police response because authorities were initially not sure whether there was a shooter inside the Cineplex.
No arrests have been reported after the San Marcos shooting.