A 20-year-old gunman was dead Tuesday morning after firing at least six rounds inside a New Jersey mall in the latest gun rampage through a high-traffic, hence low-security, venue. No one was shot or injured.
Richard Shoop, 20, fired from a modified rifle into the crowd at the Westfield Garden State Plaza in Paramus, N.J., about 15 miles from downtown Manhattan and just over the George Washington Bridge in an area known for attracting shoppers from around the region. It was unclear if Shoop was aiming at anyone. His body was found during an intense police search about 3:20 a.m. Tuesday, Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli told a televised news conference.
The attack follows other recent rampages in areas that have constant and heavy foot traffic including one two months ago by a group of militants linked to Al Qaeda in Nairobi, Kenya, where 67 people died. Last week, a gunman killed a Transportation Security Administration officer in a gun attack at Los Angeles International Airport.
Officials 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-TV’s “Good Morning America” program.
Unlike some of the other recent attacks, 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.”
The dead gunman used a rifle, apparently taken from a relative, and that had been modified to look like an AK-47, a more terrifying assault weapon, Molinelli said.
“We think he went in with the intent that he was not going to come out alive,” Molinelli said.
The gunman entered the shopping mall, owned by Australia’s Westfield Group, after 9 p.m.
Shoop began firing minutes later, before the mall’s scheduled closing time of 9:30. He was dressed in black and wore a dark motorcycle helmet, police said.
Hundreds of law enforcement officers responded and the mall was locked down. SWAT and K-9 teams searched the area, finding Shoop’s body in a back corridor, in one of the mall’s lower levels, police said. It appeared he had fired about six shots before turning the gun on himself.
Witnesses told reporters that the sound of gunfire sent customers and employees fleeing and seeking safety in the nooks and crannies of the mall, which remains closed on Tuesday.
Jessica Stigliano, 21, of Ridgefield, who’d been in the food court, told the Associated Press that she had thought, “Not many people run for their life, but that’s what I’m doing right now.”
Carlos Sinde, 36, of New York City, was alerted by fire alarms going off while he was watching previews for the 9:20 p.m. showing of the movie “Gravity” at the mall.
He told the news service that when he walked into the mall someone was saying, “I think there was a shooting,” but he didn’t take it seriously. Then security guards ran up, urging customers to leave. He said one security guard was crying.
“Once the security guards started telling us what was going on, that’s when there was hysteria,” he said.