The lights came on suddenly during a Saturday matinee screening of "Les Miserables" at Reading Cinemas Carmel Mountain in northern San Diego and two officers who had been going theater-to-theater spotted their suspect among the approximately 15 moviegoers, most of whom quickly hit the floor and started inching toward exits, police and witnesses said.
The suspect, Tom Billodeaux of Escondido, 20, at first obeyed the officer who approached him and put his empty hands up, but then "lowered them into his lap ... raised a handgun, and turned it toward the officer," police said in a statement.
The officer, who has been with the department for about 18 months, shot Billodeaux in the chest and arm, police said.
No one else, including the domestic violence victim in the initial incident, was hurt, police Lt. Ernie Herbert said.
Billodeaux was at a hospital Sunday morning and is expected to survive the shooting. He will be booked into county jail on his release, police said.
Officers reached by phone did not know if he has an attorney, and contact information could not be found for Billodeaux, his family or friends.
Billodeaux became the target of an intense police search after witnesses reported seeing him get into a fight with his girlfriend at her workplace across the street from the theater's surrounding shopping plaza, Lt. Ernie Herbert said.
Co-workers and witnesses helped the woman get away safely, but Billodeaux threatened them with a gun and ran to the shopping plaza, police said.
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 then learned 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 the sparsely attended showing of "Les Miserables."
The officers thought their lives were threatened, he said, "and more importantly, they thought the lives of others were in jeopardy."
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.
Just a day earlier at a movie theater in nearby San Marcos, someone fired a shot during a parking-lot fight that went through the lobby window and hit a woman working concessions in the arm, sheriff's officials said. No one has been arrested in that case.
The incidents came at the end of a week that brought a renewed focus on the July 20 shootings in a movie theater in Auroroa, Colo. that left 12 dead and 70 injured.
Suspect James Holmes, 25, was ordered on Thursday to stand trial.