PARAMUS, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — The Garden State Plaza mall was closed Tuesday as police continued to go through surveillance video, piece by piece, hoping to get some insight into why a 20-year-old man apparently went there on a suicide mission.
Cell phone video shot inside the mall shows frightened patrons being hustled out by SWAT teams, combing every inch of the mall after a gunman calmly walked in right at closing time Monday and started firing, CBS 2’s Kathryn Brown reported.
The body of Richard Shoop, of Teaneck, was discovered around 3:20 a.m. Tuesday in a closed-off area that is under construction at the Garden State Plaza mall in Paramus, Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli said.
As CBS 2’s Alice Gainer reported, Shoop shot at security cameras but never at the people just feet away from him.
“There was no individual that was struck by anything other than Mr. Shoop taking his own life,” Molinelli said. “I do not believe that Mr. Shoop intended to come out of here alive.”
He said Shoop killed himself with the same weapon he used inside the mall and that an ambiguous note had been left with his family.
Molinelli would not call it a suicide note, but 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.”
Sources told CBS 2 that note contained goodbyes to his co-workers at the local pizzeria he worked at for the past few years.
“He was doing great, he was going to the gym, working here. Never knew anything about drugs,” Victor’s Pizza manager Robert Gega told Gainer.
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Police swarmed the mall Monday night after authorities said Shoop, dressed head-to-toe in black and wearing a motorcycle-type helmet, fired multiple shots shortly before 9:30 p.m.
The sound of gunfire sent store employees and customers rushing for exits and hiding places, witnesses said.
“I saw him walk past our door and he paused for a second and just looked inside the store, and he fired two more,” one woman said. “I just froze. I didn’t want to run, because he might maybe come after me. I just stood there.”
“I was in J. Crew and we went to the manager’s office and barricaded ourselves in,” said Jarrett Espinal, who works in the mall.
Many huddled in restrooms, offices and stores as authorities said Shoop made his way through the mall.
“He came to the mall, fired what is at least six rounds at random, striking several different locations in the mall,” Molinelli said. “The bullets were fired into an escalator, into an elevator area. There was some property of retailers that was struck — a façade area — and there were a couple of shots that were shot straight up.”
No one was injured in the incident and Molinelli said it appears Shoop did not intend to shoot anyone inside the mall.
“The reason I say that is because he did have opportunity to shoot people and did not,” he said. “There were a lot of people around him. There were eyewitnesses a few feet from him.”
Molinelli said the weapon Shoop used was modified to look like an AK-47, but said “it was a lawful weapon owned by his brother,” adding investigators believe Shoop stole the gun from his brother earlier in the day.
Paramus Police Kenneth Ehrenberg said Shoop did not work at the mall.
Molinelli said Shoop had a history of drug use and said it appears “the main motive for what he did was suicide.” He said investigators have talked with his family.
“We have spoken with the family and we have a pretty good idea of what Mr. Shoop’s mindset was over the last day or so and it would be consistent with his actions here,” Molinelli said.
Authorities added they aren’t sure whether drugs played a factor and are awaiting the results of a toxicology test to determine whether Shoop had drugs or alcohol in his system at the time.
Those who knew Shoop said they were shocked he took his own life.
“He was just a nice young man and I had no idea that this was happening to him. To be friendly and genuine. Just a good kid and I don’t want people to think badly of him,” a former neighbor said.
Families were being escorted by police to the outskirts of the mall early Tuesday to be reunited with others who had been in the mall for hours.
“We are verifying that there are no customers left in all of the stores,” Molinelli said. “We are doing a secondary check to make sure no one is left in there.”
Fernando Perez’s daughter works at the mall and was trapped inside.
“She called me and told me she heard shots and everyone was panicking,” he said, “So I told her just stay put, not make a sound until cops arrive.”
The Garden State Plaza Mall is familiar territory for police. They’ve conducted active shooter drills there in the past.
The mall, which has more than 270 stores, was closed Tuesday. Garden State Plaza will reopen Wednesday.
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