Movie-theater attacker may have planned to set off explosion

The body of the suspect is removed from a movie theater following a shooting Wednesday. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The disturbed homeless man who attacked a movie theater with a pellet gun, an ax and pepper spray also had a propane tank and lighter fluid and may have been planning to set off an explosion, authorities said Thursday.

Vincente David Montano, 29, was shot to death by a SWAT unit Wednesday during the matinee showing of “Mad Max: Fury Road” at a Nashville-area multiplex.

Metro Nashville Police spokesman Don Aaron said investigators had not established a motive for the attack, but he said Montano had been committed for psychiatric treatment at least four times, twice in 2004 and twice in 2007.

According to police reports, his mother said he had a long history of mental problems, including hearing voices.

“This individual has had significant psychiatric or psychological issues,” Aaron said.

In addition to his weapons, a backpack and a duffel bag, Montano had a canister of propane, lighter fluid and a lighter and may have intended to set off a blast, Aaron said. But he said Montano had made a gash on the canister, rendering it useless.

Police said Montano bought a ticket to the movie and went inside with his weapons. Some of the theatergoers ran out and alerted police.

Montano pointed his pellet gun at an officer and pulled the trigger, prompting the officer to fire one round from his patrol rifle, officials said. Montano also began blasting pepper spray and fired his pellet gun again, and SWAT members shot back, police said. Aaron said Montano also hurled multiple objects, including chemical spray cartridges, at the SWAT team officers.

Montano tried to escape out the back door of the theater, and as he emerged and started toward officers with ax in one hand and his other hand concealed by the duffel bag, five of them opened fire, police said. Montano was struck and killed.

“It’s important to note that during Montano’s interaction with the SWAT team members, he had multiple and continued opportunities to end the situation. He chose not to,” Aaron said.

One man was cut on the shoulder, evidently by the ax Montano carried, but was not seriously hurt. That man, his wife and their daughter were treated for exposure to pepper spray, Aaron said.

He said Montano arrived at the theater on foot, and police have found no vehicle linked to Montano, who had no driver’s license.

Murfreesboro, Tennessee, police reports from 2004 show Montano’s long history of mental problems, with his mother telling officers in one case that he heard voices telling him to do things.

His mother, Denise Pruett, called police for help at least twice in 2004, telling officers in February he was destructive and broke a coffee table and jewelry box. Police took Montano to a mental hospital for an evaluation, though the results are unclear.

In September of that year, police returned after mother and son had an argument over his not mowing the lawn, the reports show.

Just two days before the theater attack, Pruett contacted Murfreesboro police and said Montano was missing. She told police that her son was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 2006, according to the missing person report.

Pruett told police she hadn’t seen her son since March 2013.

Attempts to reach Pruett through telephone numbers listed for her and other messages were unsuccessful. Police said she had come to Murfreesboro to stay with a relative.

Nashville police also said Montano had been arrested in Murfreesboro in 2004 for assault and resisting arrest.

The violence at the Carmike Hickory 8 complex came about two weeks after a 59-year-old drifter opened fire inside a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana, killing two people before taking his own life.

It also happened while jurors in Colorado are deciding whether the man who killed 12 moviegoers and wounded 70 others at a theater in 2012 should get the death penalty.

“This is maybe what we call the new normal,” Metro Nashville Police Chief Steve Anderson said. “We can’t just shut down America, we can’t say we’re not going to theaters, we can’t say we’re not going to church. We carry on. But we need to be mindful of our surroundings as we do that.”

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