The off-duty nurse was calling 911 for help even as he and other bystanders fought to keep the man alive.
Operator: 911, what is the address of your emergency?
Nurse: Sir, there’s been a gun shot in the Cobb Theater… gunshot to the chest… Looks like above the sternum. That’s a gunshot. Pistol.
The time was 1:29 p.m. The date was January 13. The Cobb Theater is in Wesley Chapel, just outside Tampa. The pistol was a .380 semiautomatic belonging to a 71-year-old retired cop named Curtis Reeves, who had objected when a man seated with his wife began texting during the previews to check on their 22-month-old daughter, who was home sick with a babysitter. Words had been exchanged and the texter, Chad Oulson, had stood up and may have thrown a bag of popcorn. The wife, Nicole Oulson, held out her hand when she saw Reeves pull the gun from his pants pocket. A bullet pierced her palm and struck her husband in the chest.
Operator: OK. How old is the person?
Nurse: I don’t know maybe late twenties, early thirties
Operator: It’s a male?
Nurse: Male, yes sir.
Operator: Do you know who shot him?
Nurse: Yes, there’s someone shot.
Operator: Do you know who shot him?
Nurse: I don’t know. It looks like an older gentleman in the movie theater.
The nurse can he heard in the recording telling people in the theater, “There’s someone on the way.” The only background sounds were gasping and anxious voices. A movie in which thousands of bullets are fired had been stopped before it began. A real-life drama proving the enormity of what just one bullet can do continued to unfold.
Operator: Is he still in there?
Nurse: Yes, he is.
Operator: The suspect’s still in the movie theater?
Caller: Yes, yes, yes.
Operator: Hang on, I’ll get you to the sheriff’s office.
The phone can be heard ringing as the call in transferred. The nurse can he heard now telling people in the theater, “Can someone start doing chest compressions? Is there a pulse?” The nurse then speaks directly to the wounded Oulson: “Come on buddy, breathe, breathe?” A female voice says to Oulson, “You’re not alone. I said you’re not alone.”
The phone kept ringing and ringing.
Operator: Sheriff’s Office is going to pick up in a minute.
The phone continued ringing, the seven on duty at the sheriff’s switchboard busy with other calls reporting the shooting. The nurse kept speaking to Oulson, “Breathe, buddy, breathe!” A woman can be heard saying just above a whisper, “The man behind him shot him.”
Operator: Is he talking?
Nurse: He’s breathing.
The nurse asks someone, “Can you check his pulse?” The phone rang on.
Operator: Where in the movie theater is he located?
Nurse: It’s the one with ‘Lone Survivor.’
The nurse called out to people around him, asking the theater number. He relayed the answer.
Nurse: No. 10. We need paramedics right away.
A man in the theater can be heard saying, “Open up the door for the ambulance.”
Finally, the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office finally picked up.
Sheriff’s Office: Go ahead, caller…. I need to know what happened. Who’s been shot?
Nurse: Late twenties, early thirties. Caucasian male. Just a person seeing a movie.
Sheriff’s Office: In the movie theater this happened?
Nurse: In the movie theater, yes sir.
Sheriff’s Office: OK, where is the shooter? Do you know?
Nurse: In the theater still.
Sheriff’s Office: Do you know what he looks like?
Nurse: Um mm…
Sheriff’s Office: Do you know or you’re not sure? Do you know what the shooter looks like?
Nurse: Yes sir, I do.
Sheriff’s Office: Sir, if you can give me any description…
The nurse spoke in a lowered voice.
Nurse: Umm, he’s right behind me.
Curtis was indeed still in his seat.
Sheriff’s Office: OK. What theater number are you in?
Nurse: Theater 10.
The nurse spoke to the others, asking, “Is he breathing?” A man can be heard asking Nicole Oulson, “Are you his wife?”
Sheriff’s Office: Yes or no: The person behind you, is the person white, yes or no?
Sheriff’s office: OK, can you give me a color of his shirt? Can you just say a color?
Nurse: Like a… like a…
Sheriff: Are you able to answer or not?
The nurse spoke low and fast.
Nurse: Like a light blue.
Sheriff’s Office: He still has the gun?
The pistol was in Reeves’ lap.
Nurse: Yes, yes.
The nurse had heard crackling sounds indicating that Oulson’s lungs were filling with fluid.
Nurse: It looks like he has crackles in his lungs… The blood’s going to his lungs, so we need somebody fast.
Sheriff’s Office: Give me a number, the age of the subject?
The nurse called out to the others, “How old is he?” He relayed the answer, then a correction that must have come from the wife.
Nurse: 34, 35. I’m sorry, 42.
Sheriff’s office: Give me a number for the shooter’s age.
Nurse: Umm late…
Sheriff’s Office: Just approximate. Give me a number.
Nurse: Late fifties.
The nurse had not imagined the shooter could be in his seventies. The nurse once more spoke to the others, asking “Can you feel that pulse?”
Sheriff’s Office: Blond hair, yes or no?”
Sheriff’s office: Black?
Sheriff’s office: Red?
Sheriff’s office: Bald?
Sheriff’s Office: OK. All right. Is he wearing blue jeans, shorts?
Nurse: I can’t tell. I can’t tell.
Someone can be heard calling to Oulson, “Breathe!”
Sheriff’s Office: And the person’s standing there, (or) sitting in the theater? Standing? Standing inside Theater 10?
Oulson can he heard gasping. A man in the theater can be heard calling to Oulson, “Hey, hold my hand. Where’s my hand?” The nurse can be heard calling out, “Oh, no.”
Nurse: I’m a nurse, sir. At this point, I’m just trying to make sure he stays with us.
Sheriff’s Office: We have help coming on the way. I don’t want the deputies or the ambulance crew getting involved if the shooter’s still in there.
The paramedics had almost certainly arrived outside the theater building several minutes before, but were waiting to enter until law enforcement arrived.
Sheriff’s Office: If that person gets up out of that seat and leaves, and you are able to talk, just notify me immediately…
Nurse: I will be be able to. I’m going to stay on the line with you.
The nurse can be heard asking, “Do you get a pulse?” The nurse’s voice turned more urgent.
Nurse: This guy’s pulse is low. This guy’s pulse is weak. We need an ambulance stat.
Sheriff’s Office: OK, they are on their way.
The nurse can again be heard talking to the others, saying, “The paramedics are on their way,” and then, “I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to handle this.
Sheriff’s Office: All right, when the deputy gets in there, OK, I want you to point out the shooter. Will you be able to do that discreetly?
Nurse: Yeah, I’ll be able to do that… We have some lady off-duty police officers here and nurse staff here… We’re doing chest compressions on him right now.
The nurse called to Oulson, “Hang in there, hang in.” A man can be heard saying, “Come on, guy! Come on!”
Sheriff’s Office: When the deputy gets in there, let me know.
The nurse has handed the phone to a woman, who comes on.
Woman: Where are they? The pulse is really slow.
Sheriff’s Office: They’re on the way.
The woman can be heard speaking to the others, “Check it. I can’t feel it anymore.”
Oulson can be heard gurgling, gasping, his lungs crackling, the sounds of someone drowning in his own blood. A man says, “It’s starting to move up out of his mouth.” The nurse is apparently checking the pulse and can be heard saying, “I don’t have anything.”
Woman: It’s very weak, sir. The paramedics should be here…
Sheriff’s Office: They are going to be there, OK?
Sheriff’s Office: Don’t hang up. I want you to wait until a deputy is in there before I let you go.
The nurse can be heard asking, “Can we have a flashlight?” The woman says to him, “The pupils.” The nurse says, “That’s what I’m doing.”
Woman: The deputies are here now.
Sheriff’s Office: I’m going to let you go then… Good job, you guys.
Woman: Thank you very much, sir.
The conversation concluded after 11 eternal minutes, followed by the sounds of a man struggling through his very last seconds because of one actual bullet.