Gunman opens fire in New Jersey shopping mall then kills himself

Police say man with history of drug abuse fired six shots as shoppers fled but only killed himself

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 November, 2013, 12:48pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 November, 2013, 2:20pm

A gunman opened fire in a crowded mall in the US state of New Jersey before killing himself, officials said, sparking a mass evacuation of the complex by police who did not realise he was dead for several hours.

Richard Shoop, 20, who was dressed in black and wearing a motorcycle helmet, shot at least six rounds from a modified rifle seemingly at random and without hitting anyone, before turning the gun on himself in a back area of the mall, Bergen County prosecutor John Molinelli told a news conference early yesterday morning.

Authorities said Shoop had a history of drug abuse and drug dealing, "which may very well have been the reason why he ultimately chose to do what he did last night," Molinelli said on ABC's Good Morning America programme.

Officials found Shoop's body in the Westfield Garden State Plaza in Paramus at about 3.20am local time yesterday

Molinelli said it appeared Shoop went into the mall with the intention of committing suicide, not to hurt others.

"He left a note," Molinelli said. "It's a bit ambiguous. I'm hesitant to say it's a suicide note. It does express that an end is coming. It could have been prison. It could have been what he did last night."

Shoop used a rifle that had been modified to look like an AK-47 and that he had stolen from his brother, who owned it legally, Molinelli said.

Police evacuated thousands of people from the mall and launched a manhunt after shoppers reported hearing gunshots sometime after 9pm on Monday, said Jeanne Baratta, chief of staff for Bergen County.

Najee Waters, 19, was at his sales job at an H&M clothing store when he heard what sounded like two shots ring out.

"It was frantic. Absolutely chaos," said Waters, who followed a practiced store emergency plan and rushed to a break room at the back of the store, where about a dozen workers gathered before dashing out to the parking lot. About 25 customers were browsing in the store at the time.

Jessica Stigliano, 21, who'd been in the food court, said: "Not many people run for their life, but that's what I'm doing right now."

Hundreds of police officers converged on the mall, which was put on lockdown. New Jersey state police landed a helicopter in the parking lot and SWAT teams with dog units went through the mall and evacuated anyone who was still there.

Nick Woods was working in the Lego store when a woman ran by shouting that there was a shooting.

Woods said his supervisor locked them in a back room, along with a man and a child who ran into the store. When they finally peeked out two hours later, he said they saw police officers standing outside and Woods called the 911 emergency service to ask that the officers be told they were coming out.

He said the emergency operator told him she couldn't contact individual police officers and that he should walk out with his hands in the air.

"I had to go out of the store shouting at the officers with my hands up, and they turned and pointed their guns at me," Woods said. "It was one of the scariest experiences of my life."

Joel Castaneda, 18, who was working at the Ann Taylor Loft store, also spent time locked in a back room. He said he heard several loud bangs and thought they were from construction at the mall, but then saw people running.

He said people rushed into his store and they locked themselves in a back room - employees and customers alike - where they pulled out cellphones to try to get news or reach loved ones.

The mall, which has more than 270 stores, is located about 24 kilometres northwest of Manhattan in New York. It is owned by Australia's Westfield Group and is popular with shoppers from the area, as well as New Yorkers.

Additional reporting by Associated Press