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Gunman reportedly stalked mall before mass killing

Published February 12, 2007 11:20 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Posted: 11:22 PM- At least six people, including the gunman, are dead tonight after a shooting spree at a crowded downtown Salt Lake City mall.

Witnesses described scenes of horror from inside Trolley Square - a 239,000-square-foot mall of about 30 shops and restaurants near 600 East and 600 South.

Ron Mason and DeEta Barta, of Salt Lake City, said they were eating around 7 p.m. at the Desert Edge Brew Pub when they saw a man coming in from the west parking lot. The man, wearing a dark trench coat, was carrying a long rifle or shotgun.

They yelled, "There's a man with a gun!" A few seconds later they heard about 12 rounds.

Witness interviews conducted by The Tribune indicated there were four bodies inside the card shop Cabin Fever, one in the mall hallway outside Bath and Body Works and one inside Pottery Barn Kids.

Mason and Barta, who are registered nurses, went to assist a victim, a younger man who had suffered a superficial gunshot wound to the right temple and ear. Though the boy was clearly in shock, the couple said, he told them that he saw his father go down.

A woman on the lower level of the mall, near Black Chandelier clothing store, said she heard a shot and looked up upstairs and saw the gunman. He had a long dark coat, dark brown hair and was carrying a rifle or shotgun, she said.

Clifton Black, 26, and Melinda Gurr, 21, of Salt Lake City, heard the shots as they hunkered down in the back of the Black Chandelier. A clerk turned off the lights in the store and locked the front doors. The clerk, Black and Gurr then hid until the gunfire stopped.

The group then ventured to the front window, where they caught the eye of a sheriff's deputy who was carrying a shotgun.

The officer shouted, "Two civilians," and told them to walk to the exits with their hands over their heads, Black said.

On their way out of the mall, they saw a "heap of bodies" in one of the stores, Black said. The injured people were being treated by paramedics, he said. They saw at least one other man on the ground while leaving the mall, he said.

Shaura Cole was in the center of the mall area and saw a teenage boy in a white shirt and dark pants, lying on the floor with a gunshot wound to his head. She said he was about 16.

The police and paramedics kept running up to him and looking down at him. It was clear they knew he was dead, Cole said. A girl with a pink shirt ran to the boy, crying, fell to her knees and started shaking him. She was taken away by police a short time later.

Brad Merrill was outside the Ol' Spaghetti Factory on the mezzanine when he heard a loud noise and the sound of glass breaking.

"All of a sudden, someone barged into the mall with a big shotgun," Merrill said. He was holding it in one hand, barrel up.

Merrill grabbed his young son and ran outside the mall, becoming separated from his wife and three other children.

He said as many as two-dozen shots were fired, and he called 911 on his cell phone. He then called his wife and learned they were hiding inside a storage room inside the Sharper Image. They got out about 7:50 p.m.

Marie Smith, an employee at Bath and Body Works, said she saw the gunman running in front of her store with what appeared to be a rifle. She ducked behind the counter and saw him shoot a woman in her mid-20s.

"She screamed as she was coming around the corner and he shot her. I didn't hear him say anything to her at all."

John and George Donham, who live in an apartment south of Trolley Square, were walking through the east parking lot of the mall when they heard gunshots.

They saw several women running out of building, then saw a man sitting in the passenger side of a dark Chrysler, bleeding from a head wound.

John Donham said one side of the man's head looked like "meatloaf," and he appeared to be in shock.

The victim said: "That guy's in there just shooting."

He told the Donhams that he had been shot while he was on the second-floor main lobby on the north side of the mall. The Donhams, who took cover behind a car, said they heard at least five more shots before officers arrived.

The men said they saw five or six officers run toward the mall with guns drawn. They said they tried to call the officers' attention to the shooting victim in the car, but the officers said, "We've gotta go in and stop this killer," the Donhams said. The officers ran in and then the Donhams heard multiple gunshots.

The victim said, "Please get me to a hospital. Please get me to a hospital," said George Donham.

John Donham said he got down on his knees beside the victim - whom they described as Caucasian, about 22 years old - and began to pray.

Jeremy Jensen, 26, of Salt Lake City, at Desert Edge, said he saw the shooter several hours earlier, walking through the brewery. He remembered his long, tan trenchcoat and that he had a mullet midway down his back. Jensen said he was acting "a little weird. He kind of looked lost. I was about to ask him if he needed help."

Jensen said he saw the man later enter the mall from the parking deck, carrying a shotgun. A man ran after spotting the gunman, and the gunman turned and fired at him. Jensen said he could not see if the man was hit. After that, Jensen heard a gunshot every 30 seconds for several minutes.

Barrett Dodds, another witness, was working at the Brass Key and exited the store after hearing several shots. He said he ran into a man who identified himself as an Ogden City police officer.

It was difficult to tell where the shots were coming from, Dodds said, but he directed the officer to the lower level where he believed the shooter was.

Dodds said he got a good look at the gunman and watched as he reloaded several times and shot.

"I was trying to find something to throw at him [the gunman]," he said.

Matt Lund, 44, said he heard a police officer identify himself and order the gunman to put his weapon down.

"There was a pause, a shotgun blast and then a barrage of fire," said Lund, whose wife Barbara Lund, owns the Secret Garden.

The couple hid in a storage closet in the store. When he left the closet and went into the mall hallway, Lund saw shotgun shell casings "scattered all over the floor and lots of broken windows."

Lund said he also saw a female victim face down and a male victim in the main corridor.

Sgt. Blaine Clifford of the Ogden Police Department confirmed that one of the city's patrol division officers was involved in the shooting.

The off-duty officer happened to be in the mall at the time, Clifford said. He declined to name the officer or disclose the extent of his involvement in the shooting.

However, Clifford said, the Ogden officer was "not just a witness."

"As far as who did what to whom, I don't know." The Ogden officer was uninjured, Clifford said.

Two shooting victims were taken to University Hospital. Both suffered gunshot wounds and were in critical condition, according to Chris Nelson, hospital spokesman.

One, a 50-year-old male, was being operated on. The other, a 16- year-old male, was being evaluated in radiology.

The emergency room was in lockdown, with security guards allowing only medical personnel, family members of the victims and new patients inside.

They don't expect any more patients tonight, Nelson said.

Other victims may have been taken to Salt Lake Regional Medical Center and LDS Hospital, Nelson said. Police radio reports said two victims had been taken to LDS Hospital at 8:30 p.m.

At a press conference around 8:25 p.m., police shed a little light on what happened at the mall, starting with an optimistic note regarding the suspected gunman:

"He is no longer a threat," said Robin Snyder, public information officer with the Salt Lake City Police Department.

Beyond that, details were sketchy. Snyder said police didn't know who the suspect was or what his motive was.

She said it appeared to be a random shooting not directed at anyone in particular, and the gunman ranged through a large part of the mall.

Snyder confirmed that there were "several victims."

At 7:30 p.m., the Salt Lake City Fire Department started handing out blankets to about 100 people on 500 South who had evacuated the mall and were waiting to get to their cars in the parking lot, which was being blocked by police. Some also are waiting for friends and family members to be brought out of the mall.

By 9 p.m., the entire mall had been declared a crime scene, and police were still receiving calls for help from inside the mall.

"We've got a lot of scared people still inside," Snyder said.

Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson said police Chief Chris Burbank is out of town and acting Chief Scott Atkinson is charge of the force.

"An entire community is, of course, traumatized when there are such senseless acts of violence," Anderson said. "My heart goes out to the victims, their loved ones and those who were in the area and obviously so terrified. ... I don't know what could have motivated anybody to do this."

He called the shooting an "isolated incident" and said serious crime in Salt Lake City has been on a 14-year decline.

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The crisis hotline at Valley Mental Health is available to witnesses or others who are seeking support. The hotline for counseling can be

accessed 24-hours a day at 801-261-1442.