REDLANDS (CBSLA) — An outing to catch one of the season’s most anticipated films turned into a panic-filled afternoon for some moviegoers Friday.
Armed officers rushed to the Harkins Mountain Grove 16 theaters in Redlands, where people had just finished watching the latest installment of the “Avengers” franchise, fearing there might a gunman inside. Witnesses said when the movie was over, a man stood up and started yelling in what sounded like a preacher’s sermon.
“I think when he said, ‘If you were to die tonight, would your passage to heaven be guaranteed?’ — something along those lines — I think that’s when people started panicking,” Susie Arias told CBS2 News.
Arias said she and her partner were able to walk out, but they said people behind them started running and pushing in an effort to exit quickly.
“That’s when the kind of chaos happened in the little exit, where people were jumping over the railings, and kind of falling over, twisting their ankles and hitting their head,” recalled Adrian Arias.
In footage taken immediately after the incident, a man can be seen limping out of the theater. Police said a woman hit her head and had to be hospitalized.
“I thought she had fainted, passed out, completely passed out,” said Susie.
The culprit in all this chaos? Michael Webber.
The 28-year-old preacher with Truth and Triumph Ministries told CBS2 via phone he’s preached at the theater before with no problems.
“Last night was an anomaly,” said Webber. “The lights did not turn up for quite a few minutes, and so I really couldn’t see anyone’s reaction except those of the people just right around me.”
He added he didn’t know the people in the theater couldn’t see he had his hands up, showing he did not have a weapon.
“It’s extremely unfortunate that anyone sustained injuries because of this,” lamented Webber. “Again, I was unarmed.”
Susie told CBS2 she wasn’t aware of that at the time, and she didn’t want to take any chances, given what has happened at theaters around the world in recent years, such as the shooting at a theater in Aurora, Colorado in 2012.
“I think that’s why people reacted,” said Susie. “They just felt like, ‘We have to get out, no matter what the cost.'”
Arias said she hopes Webber realizes the fear she caused in others.
“If you’re gonna try to draw people towards the Bible, that’s not the way to do it, and he needs to stop,” admonished Arias.
Webber has been charged with a misdemeanor. He told CBS2 this will not deter his evangelizing, but he might reconsider his setting.