OMAHA, Neb. (AP) – A man with an AR-15-style rifle and more than a dozen clips of ammunition opened fire inside a Target store in Omaha, sending panicked shoppers and employees scrambling for safety before be shot to death by police on Tuesday afternoon, authorities said. No injuries were reported.
The white man in his 30s, who has not been identified, fired multiple shots as he entered the store, but it wasn’t clear if he had shot anyone, Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer said.
Target employee Lauren Murphy had just started her break when she heard the shots and was in the bathroom across from the store. She got a text telling her to run or stay still, so she hid in a bathroom, kicked her feet off the floor, and started texting her family and friends to say she loved them. A child next to her was crying.
“I was afraid this was how I was going to die on the job,” said Murphy, 21.
“I was just holding on to the side of the toilet by lifting my feet off the ground, making sure I wasn’t visible,” she added.
Another 21-year-old employee, Samuel Jacobsen, was filling out a personal purchase order when he heard the first shot. But he wasn’t sure what the sound was and he kept working.
“Then my colleague ran and said, ‘He’s got a gun, get out!'” Jacobsen said. “I was like, ‘Oh, this is real. I have to get out, I have to get out, I have to get out.’”
He hid behind the store, texting colleagues to make sure they were okay.
Cathy Mahannah, a customer, said the scene inside was “pure panic”.
The 62-year-old grandmother was near the store entrance picking out Valentine’s Day gifts for her family when she heard banging. She thought something had fallen, but then she saw a mass of people running towards the exit.
A shopper told her there was an active shooter and she ran off. She heard at least one other gunshot in the shop and someone else when she was out.
Mahannah was so shaken that she initially couldn’t find her car and jumped into a vehicle with a stranger.
“The moments in that parking lot were terrifying when I heard the gunshots and thought, ‘Where am I hiding? I don’t know what to do’” she said.
At least 29 911 calls came in around noon, and the city’s police chief said officers were at the store within minutes. The first officers on the scene included Omaha police officers and a Nebraska state police officer.
“The first officers who arrived entered the building, confronted the suspect and shot him dead,” Schmaderer said. “He was carrying an AR-15 rifle and a lot of ammunition.”
Police said officers gave several loud orders for the man to lower his rifle before an Omaha officer shot the suspect, who died at the scene.
Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were nearby and helped get the victims to safety, Bureau spokesman John Ham said.
The ATF is tracking the weapon to determine where it came from, if it was legally acquired and if it has been used in other crimes, Ham said.
Target spokesman Brian Harper-Tibaldo said in a statement that all shoppers and employees have been safely evacuated from the store, which will remain closed indefinitely.
Lt. Neal Bonacci, a police spokesman, said officers are trained to enter such scenes quickly to avoid mass casualties.
“We’ve learned a lot from other jurisdictions, other areas, other cities that have unfortunately experienced this,” he said. “Let’s go right in. We are trained to do this. Whether it’s one agent or 10, we go in and neutralize the threat.”
Several more shootings have taken place in stores across the country in recent months, at a time when mass shootings have garnered public attention with disturbing frequency.
In January, a woman was injured in a shooting at a Walmart store in Evansville, Indiana. Police said it could have been much worse had it not been for the heroic actions of an employee and the police. Officers arrived within minutes and shot the gunman to death. A Walmart manager in Chesapeake, Virginia, killed six people in November when he started shooting wildly inside a break hall. Six others were injured. The gunman shot and killed himself before officers arrived.
In Buffalo, New York, an 18-year-old man fatally shot 10 people and injured three others last May after searching a grocery store in a predominantly black neighborhood. Authorities immediately called it a hate crime.
The Omaha shootings came just over 15 years after the deadly December 2007 shooting at a Von Maur department store, when a 19-year-old gunman killed eight people and himself.
Nebraska allows gun owners to carry firearms, including assault rifles, in public, as long as they have no criminal record that would prevent them from owning one and they are not in a location where guns are prohibited. To legally hide a gun, Nebraska residents must undergo a state patrol background check, obtain fingerprints, and take a course in gun safety.
Republican state Senator Tom Brewer of Gordon is sponsoring a bill that would allow people to carry concealed handguns without permission. The measure would also prohibit cities and counties from making local laws with stricter controls than state law. The proposal has 25 cosponsors.
Jacobsen, the store clerk, said he wants tougher gun laws, not looser ones.
“As someone who grew up here, I always feel this part of Omaha and West Omaha is so safe,” she said. But Tuesday’s shooting “really suggests it could happen anywhere.”
Heather Hollingsworth in Kansas City, Missouri, and Jim Salter in O’Fallon, Missouri, contributed to this report.