OMAHA, Neb. – A man with an AR-15-style rifle opened fire inside a Target store in Omaha, sending panicked shoppers and employees scrambling for safety before he was fatally shot by police Tuesday afternoon, police said authority.
Police Chief Todd Schmaderer said the man had “a lot of ammunition” and that evidence suggests he fired multiple shots, but it wasn’t immediately known whether he shot anyone.
Schmaderer said no injuries were found and police searched the shop “because there were some people hiding in there”.
Cathy Mahannah, a customer, said the scene inside the store 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, then she saw a mass of people running towards the exit.
A shopper told her there was an active shooter and she fled. She heard at least one other shot in the shop and a few more when she was outside.
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.
The police chief said there were several 911 calls just before noon and officers arrived at the store within minutes.
“The first officers who arrived entered the building, confronted the suspect and shot him dead,” Schmaderer said, speaking at the press conference about an hour after the shooting. “He was carrying an AR-15 rifle and a lot of ammunition.”
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 spokesperson Brian Harper-Tibaldo said in a statement that all guests and team members have been safely evacuated from the store.
Among those employees were two 21-year-olds, Lauren Murphy and Samuel Jacobsen.
Murphy was in the bathroom when he heard the shots. She texted family and friends, telling them she loved them, and stood on a toilet so her feet wouldn’t be visible if the killer walked in.
Relief overwhelmed her when the police entered the bathroom. A child next to her was crying.
“I was afraid this was how I was going to die on the job,” Murphy said. “It was just terrifying.”
Jacobsen was processing a personal purchase order. He had never heard a shot before and at first he wasn’t sure what the sound was.
“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.’”
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 in public, provided they have no criminal record that prevents them from owning one and they are not in a location where guns are prohibited. To legally hide their gun, Nebraskanians 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 is among those who want tougher gun laws, not looser ones.
“As someone who grew up here, I always feel this part of 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.