VIDEO-Hatchet-wielding gunman attacks Tennessee movie theater before being killed by police - The Washington Post

Authorities says the hatchet-wielding gunman who attacked a Nashville movie theater was shot dead by police on Wednesday. (Reuters)

A man armed with a gun and a hatchet attacked a movie theater in the Nashville area on Wednesday afternoon before he was shot and killed by a SWAT team after exchanging fire with officers, authorities said.

One man was injured by the hatchet. That man and two other people also needed treatment after being “blasted with pepper spray” by the attacker, said Don Aaron, a Nashville police spokesman.

The suspected attacker is believed to be a 51-year-old white man from the area, but his identity has not been confirmed, Aaron said during a news conference outside the theater.

Police were called to the scene just before 1:15 p.m. local time for reports of “an active shooter” inside the Carmike Hickory 8 movie theater in Antioch, southeast of downtown Nashville, Aaron said. Less than an hour later, police reported that the “active shooter situation” was over and the suspected gunman was dead.

“We believe the imminent threat has been ended,” Aaron said.

In a bizarre scene that came not long after another attack inside a Louisiana movie theater killed two moviegoers and injured several others, Aaron said that a gunman with a surgical mask over his face and a backpack on his chest filled a theater with pepper spray.

[Louisiana theater gunman described as a ‘drifter’ with mental illness history]

The person entered the projection room during a screening of “Mad Max: Fury Road” on Wednesday afternoon before continuing inside the theater, Aaron said.

One of the officers who first responded went into the theater and encountered the gunman, who “raised his weapon toward that officer and pulled the trigger,” Aaron said. The officer returned fire and backed away from the theater, the spokesman said.

When the SWAT team arrived, the air inside the theater was so thick the officers had to get gas masks before trying to engage with the hatchet-wielding man. The 51-year-old man emerged from the back of the theater and was ultimately shot and killed by Nashville police officers, Aaron said. This person was the only one shot at the theater, Aaron added.

However, the man had two bags with him, and authorities are working to check the bags to make sure there is no additional danger, he said. An hour after the active shooter situation was deemed over, Aaron said a bomb squad planned to detonate the bag to “render it safe.”

A man identified only as “Steven,” who was in the theater and was exposed to pepper spray, briefly spoke with reporters on Wednesday afternoon.

“I am eternally grateful for the Metro police department for their fast response today and for the fact that no one else got injured other than the person who did this,” said Steven, who was introduced by police and did not take any questions.

Steven said that he had no indications of why the attack unfolded.  He added that he does not want any fame or notoriety for this, saying that he and his family “were not looking for any of this.” In addition, Steven thanked first responders and the other people in the area who helped him and his daughter after they were pepper-sprayed.

“That kind of gives me a little more faith in humanity again,” he said.

Police were able to be at the scene within minutes because officers were responding to a crash just off the movie theater property, Aaron said.

“We’re very grateful we only have three pepper spray exposures to treat at this point,” Brian Haas, a spokesman for the Nashville Fire Department, said at a news conference. “This could have been a lot worse. And we’re extraordinarily pleased the police response was so effective and quick on this.”

The nearby Ford Ice Center closed for the rest of the day due to the incident, the Nashville Predators, an NHL hockey team, announced in a news release. The Academy at Hickory Hollow, a part of the metropolitan Nashville public school system also near the theater, was placed on lockdown due to the shooting, but no students were in the building, the school system said in a statement.

This report of an active shooter situation occurred than two weeks after a gunman opened fire inside a Lafayette, La., movie theater about 650 miles away from this shooting. In that case, a gunman killed two people and injured nine before taking his own life. Meanwhile, both incidents took place while a jury in Colorado is weighing a possible death sentence for the man convicted of killing 12 people and injuring 70 others inside a theater there. Jurors in that trial were allowed to stay on despite exposure to the Lafayette shooting.

“I just couldn’t believe this was happening again,” Eric Vale, 32, an Uber driver who was dropping off passengers in the parking lot when shots rang out, told the Tennesseean.

This post has been updated numerous times with new information. First published: 3:12 p.m.

Mark Berman is a reporter on the National staff. He runs Post Nation, a destination for breaking news and developing stories from around the country.