An armed man entered the Carmike 15 theater complex in Columbus Thursday night, carrying a concealed pistol and ammunition for a midnight showing of the Sylvester Stallone action movie, “The Expendables 2,” police said.
The incident occurred only hours after Carmike Cinemas received a threat at its corporate offices in downtown Columbus, apparently aimed at several of its theaters outside Columbus.
Police don’t believe Joshua L. Vardeman, 23, who faces three misdemeanor charges, is the same person who left a bomb threat Thursday night on an answering machine at Carmike’s corporate offices in downtown Columbus, Lt. Bill Rawn said.
“It sounded like a disgruntled worker,” Rawn said, describing the threat that was left at the company’s office, with the caller saying, “‘You don’t pay us enough. You cut back our hours. We’re not expendable. We’ll show you we’re not expendable.’”
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Vardeman was stopped by off-duty officers before he made it into the theater Thursday night, sending multiple law-enforcement agencies into action in an eerie echo of the recent Aurora, Colo., mass shooting that left 12 people dead and 58 wounded.
Vardeman is charged with carrying a concealed weapon, carrying a pistol without a license and carrying a deadly weapon into a public gathering, police said. He made his $1,076 bond by 5 a.m. Friday and is out of jail.
The bomb threat — reportedly mentioning Atlanta-area Carmike theaters as well — sent officials across the country investigating possible explosives planted in movie houses, several news outlets reported.
The threat at Carmike’s headquarters was left at 7:19 p.m. Thursday, police said, but wasn’t retrieved until 8:30 a.m. Friday.
Vardeman stepped inside the Carmike 15, 5555 Whittlesey Blvd., about three hours after the 7:19 p.m. call, Rawn said. Carrying a computer bag, he bought a ticket for “The Expendables 2” and then walked farther into the lobby of the movie complex.
“Our officers that are working there approached him and advised him that all bags were being searched,” Rawn said.
Columbus Police Cpl. Dechon Grant, working off-duty security, then spotted Vardeman about 20 to 25 feet inside the building, police said. Seeing the man’s laptop, Grant asked him about closed pockets on the computer bag, Rawn said. That’s when Vardeman tried to leave. He was stopped, and Grant found a 9 mm automatic handgun, ammunition and four knives.
“Mr. Vardeman made no threats or any acts which would appear he had intention to do any harm to anyone,” Lt. Lynn Joiner said.
Vardeman’s car was later searched for explosives by the local Hazardous Device Response Team. None were found, but the search did produce 100 9 mm rounds and a hunting knife. His room at his father’s house produced no additional ammunition or weapons.
Carmike Cinemas spokesman Terrell Mayton confirmed the company, which operates more than 240 theaters in 35 states, received a threat, but said it was not from an apparent disgruntled employee.
“We had a threat that was communicated to us by individuals identified as employees of a vendor a janitorial service, someone that cleans our theaters, that don’t necessarily work for Carmike,” he said.
A reference to the movie, “The Expendables 2,” was mentioned in the call, he said, indicating it was targeting locations showing the new shoot-’em-up flick that pits Stallone and other commandos seeking revenge for the murder of one of their men.
Every theater identified as a target in the threat was being searched thoroughly Friday to make sure they are safe for moviegoers and employees, Mayton said.
“I believe our theaters in Columbus have been deemed clear and safe,” he said around lunchtime Friday. “We’re being very thorough everywhere. We’re doing everything we can to make sure these theaters are as safe as they possibly can be.”
Carmike doesn’t have a policy of searching every bag at all of its theaters, Mayton said. But a sign at each theater box office states that backpacks, purses and other bags are subject to search and that no guns or other weapons are allowed.
“Obviously this is a very serious communicated threat and law-enforcement people are investigating it,” he said. “So there are details they’re looking at that they want to make sure don’t get mass disclosure.”
Mayton said he has not talked with Carmike’s theater operations people to determine if extra security will be added at any of its movie houses.
“But, certainly, we’re going to be very vigilant at all of these locations even though they’ve been cleared,” he said.