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Ugly theater drama reveals the bad, good

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Greenville police and other law enforcement officers responded to the AMC Fire Tower 12 late Friday, Feb. 23, after a report shots had been fired inside the complex.

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Sunday, March 4, 2018

The dramatic confrontation and subsequent police response nine days ago at the AMC Fire Tower 12 showed a full range of humanity, from selfish to selfless, in a matter of minutes, with the best possible of outcomes: all parties left the business safe and sound albeit a bit shaken.

Greenville Police Chief Mark Holtzman, with a bit of incredulity, explained how the drama unfolded prior to a showing of “Black Panther.” “Yeah, believe it or not, we believe this entire thing started over assigned seating in the theater. In other words, ‘You’re in my seat,’ that leads to an argument, that leads to a gun being pulled out and at least one round being fired up into the ceiling.”

We don’t know the details of the argument, which party was in the right or wrong, but everyone knows that firing a gun is the absolute worst response to that situation — everyone except maybe the big brain in the blue and white shirt and blue and white hat who police arrested a couple days later. 

Of course he is innocent until proven guilty, but the man simply could have approached the management if someone had taken his seat, or he could have moved if the seat’s rightful owner asked him to please do so. He could have moved even if the exchange was less pleasant.

Instead, Mr. Big Shot and his girlfriend (she was arrested, too) can think only of themselves. They argue and fight, the man fires his pistol and starts a panic — you don’t have to be a behavioral scientist to know that a gunshot in a theater will scare people, especially nine days after a shooting rampage killed 17 people at a school in Florida and stirred memories of the 2012 theater shooting that killed 12 in Colorado.

The incident ruined everybody’s night. No “Black Panther” or any other movie for anyone after that. At the very least, the guy needs some anger management classes, and he doesn’t need to be carrying a gun.

The first police officers entered the building quickly, the chief said, less than two minutes after they were called. This is where the story takes a positive turn. 

The officers did not know exactly what would face them when they entered. Surely the same thoughts movie-goers had of shooters with high-powered weapons and fully loaded magazines crossed their minds. Instead of holding back, or running away, these officers geared up and ran toward the danger. 

In this day and age, it is an eventuality for which local law enforcement regularly trains. Every summer, for instance, they pick a school building and practice their active-shooter response with guns that shoot paint pellets and actors who play bad guys and bystanders. The protocol calls for the first available officer — on or off duty — to push forward as back up scrambles to the scene.

Officers from Greenville, East Carolina University and the Pitt County Sheriff’s Office showed how well their training and efforts to equip them has worked. Within 10 minutes several waves of vested responders with rifles had overrun the business. An active shooter would have had nowhere to hide.

Thank goodness more was not required of these heroic people. We know the sight of them may have surprised and frightened many that night, but by most accounts they performed with great professionalism. We can take comfort that they are ready, willing and able to do their job — a job that in the worst-case scenario risks their lives to protect ours.

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Humans of Greenville

@HumansofGville

Local photographer Joe Pellegrino explores Greenville to create a photographic census of its people.

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