A 20-year-old gunman intent on dying fired multiple shots inside New Jersey's largest shopping mall, trapping hundreds of customers and employees for hours as police scoured stores for the shooter, who was found dead early Tuesday of a self-inflicted wound, authorities said. There were no other injuries.
Investigators don't believe the gunman, identified as 20-year-old Richard Shoop of Teaneck, intended to shoot anyone when he began firing at the ceiling and elsewhere at the Garden State Plaza on Monday night shortly before the mall's closing time, Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli said.
“We think he went in with the intent that he was not going to come out alive,” Molinelli said.
He said Shoop was known to authorities and had had a problem with drugs, but he did not elaborate.
The prosecutor said Shoop left an ambiguous note with his family. While Molinelli would not call it a suicide note, he said it did “express that an end is coming. It could have been prison. … It could have been what he did last night. It gave his family reason to reach out to us.”
The suspect's brother, Kevin Shoop told reporters outside their home on a quiet suburban block in Teaneck that he had no advance warning about what Richard intended to do.
“He just sadly decided to make an act of — an act of, I guess, self-indulgence — by taking his own life publicly,” Kevin Shoop said. “And it's a tragedy to us all. And we're going to now handle matters and deal with them.”
The shooting has left him devastated, he said, calling his brother a great person who was liked by his friends and family.
Kevin Shoop said his brother used a weapon that did not belong to him.
“As far as anything goes into the drugs or any of the other rumors out there, no comment,” Kevin Shoop said.
Chaos erupted shortly before the mall's 9:30 p.m. closing time when authorities said a man dressed in black and wearing a motorcycle helmet fired six shots. Molinelli said the gun, which was modified to look like an AK-47 assault rifle, belonged to Richard Shoop's brother, who owned it legally and did not give the shooter permission to take it.
Shoop's body was discovered around 3:20 a.m. Tuesday in a back corridor of the mall, deep within a lower level, in an area that is not accessible to the public, Paramus police Chief Kenneth Ehrenberg said. Shoop did not work at the mall, he said, and investigators were still trying to determine why he went there.
Madison Barbarini, a close friend of Shoop's since kindergarten, said he was popular and “would never hurt a fly.”
Barbarini said Shoop told her last week he had found a new job.
“He told me that he was going to get a new job at this TV place and he was going to make good money,” she said.
At Victor's Pizzeria & Italian Restaurant in Teaneck, where Shoop worked for several years, owner Dod Geges said Shoop texted him on Friday to say he was running late, then never showed.
Geges said in an email Tuesday that he couldn't imagine Shoop carrying a gun into a mall. “He was always sad if he heard something like that on TV,” Geges said.
Barbarini, who graduated from Teaneck High School in 2011 with Shoop, said he was involved in theater and fencing, then attended Bergen Community College.
She said he quit college to work full-time at the pizzeria and recently purchased a motorcycle.
“He just wanted to be a successful businessman. He wanted to succeed in life,” she said.
At the mall Monday night, witnesses said the sound of gunfire sent customers and employees rushing hysterically for the exits and hiding places at the mall, which remained closed Tuesday.
Jessica Stigliano, 21, of Ridgefield, who'd been in the food court, said she had thought, “Not many people run for their life, but that's what I'm doing right now.”
Hundreds of law enforcement officers converged on the 2.2 million-square-foot mall, which was put on lockdown. New Jersey State Police landed a helicopter in the parking lot and SWAT teams with K-9 units initially went through the mall and started evacuating people.
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 911 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, of Englewood, 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 until he saw people running.
He said people rushed into his store and locked themselves in a back room — employees and customers alike — where they pulled out cellphones to try to get news or reach loved ones.
Early Tuesday, families were being escorted by police to a Chili's restaurant on the outskirts of the mall area to be reunited with others who had been in the mall for hours.
The mall, which has more than 270 stores, is located about 15 miles northwest of Manhattan.