Massive mall shut down by 20-year-old gunman who killed himself
BY BILL DEMAREST
PARAMUS, NJ – Tales of terror are still emerging from Monday night’s strange incident at Garden State Plaza, where a 20-year-old man dressed in black marched through the mall, fired shots with a rifle and then killed himself in a secluded area.
No one else was injured in the incident just before closing time at the popular regional shopping center, but the bizarre actions of Richard Shoop of Teaneck, NJ, sent thousands of shoppers and store workers fleeing for their lives and sparked a massive police response that even included an FBI SWAT team.
The mall, long a popular alternative shopping destination for Rockland County residents, was closed on Tuesday for the continuing police investigation and re-opened for business on Wednesday. The incident attracted regional and national attention, with the public and law enforcement officials not knowing the extent of the crisis until the gunman’s body was found in a basement area during a search of the 2.1 million-square-foot mall at about 3:20 a.m. on Tuesday.
Investigators said Shoop fired about six shots as he walked through the mall, entering by Nordstrom’s, but did not aim at anyone in the mall. Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli said Shoop’s body was found with a bullet wound to the head – the only victim in the incident.
Molinelli confirmed that Shoop had left a note at home in Teaneck, but it’s meaning is not clear. After finding the note on Monday, Shoop’s brother, Kevin, was prompted to go out looking for Richard. When Kevin Shoop heard of the shooting at the mall, he discovered his rifle was missing.
Kevin Shoop went to the mall to tell police he thought his brother might be involved. Kevin Shoop was still there when his younger brother’s body was found with his rifle.
The ongoing investigation into the incident is still trying to determine exactly how many shots were fired. Molinelli said that Shoop did have extra ammunition with him for the rifle, a Zastava Serbia – which looks like the Russian AK-47.
Witnesses who saw Shoop – a Bergen Community College student who worked at a Teaneck pizzeria – walking through the mall said he was not aiming at anyone from the public. However, workers and shoppers far from Shoop could hear the shots in the mall and weren’t sure what was happening. In the massive police response to the incident, police officers guided workers and shoppers out of the locked-down mall and its sprawling parking lots.
Shoop’s family and friends were shocked by the incident and on Tuesday held a vigil in Teaneck to remember him, with more than 200 people attending. At the family home on Tuesday, Kevin Shoop said his brother did not mean to hurt anyone.
“My brother intended to harm nobody else but himself,” Kevin Shoop said. “He just sadly decided to make an act of, I guess, self-indulgence by taking his own life publicly, and it’s a tragedy to all of us.”
The gun used in Monday night’s incident had been seized by police after an incident this year between Richard and Kevin Shoop. However, Molinelli said the legally-owned weapon was returned to Kevin Shoop.
While the shooting incident shocked and surprise the community, local law enforcement officers have conducted training exercises at the massive mall to prepare for such emergencies. For years, police throughout the metropolitan area – including Rockland County – have been conducting awareness campaigns urging the public to report suspicious incidents, people or unattended packages at major shopping areas immediately if they spot something. The “See Something, Say Something” campaign has included the sprawling Palisades Center mall in West Nyack.
During the holiday season, Palisades Center and the Clarkstown Police Department arrange for increased police patrols of the mall – inside and outside.
While incidents at major malls across the country are not new – the deadly Brink’s robbery in 1981 started at the Nanuet Mall – a new level of terror was reached in September in Kenya, where a group of extremists attacked a mall and killed 67 people.