Emotionless killer gunned down victims randomly
Posted: 11:24 AM- The expression on his face never changed. Not as he walked into the crowded mall. Not as he began to fire.
"He wasn't yelling or saying anything. He was just loading his gun and blasting away," said Trolley Square mall employee Jaron Dansie, who was among scores to witness the worst mass killing in Utah in recent memory.
All told, the killer slaughtered five people Tuesday evening and seriously injured at least four others.
The Tribune has learned one of the fatal victims was 52-year-old Jeff Walker. His son, 16-year-old Bingham High School junior Alan "A.J." Walker, was among the wounded. The victims were men, women and teenagers. They were shot randomly, according to police.
The carnage ended when the shooter was shot and killed by at least three Salt Lake City police officers and an off-duty Ogden police officer in plain clothes.
It had begun just moments earlier, about 6:40 p.m., when a young man in a tan trench coat, sporting a mullet-style haircut, strode toward the mall from the west parking deck.
He was carrying a shotgun, pointed upward.
"It didn't seem real to me," said Ron Mason, who was dining with DeEta Barta at the Desert Edge Brew Pub. They were seated next to a window overlooking the mall's west side plaza entry.
Mason stood up from the table and yelled to other customers that a man with a gun was entering the mall.
Desert Edge employee Jeremy Jensen looked down from the second floor and spotted the gunman - a man he recognized as a brew pub customer from earlier that afternoon.
As Jensen watched from above, another man, on the mall's ground floor, also spotted the armed man and ran toward the exit. The gunman turned and fired.
"I saw the fire come out of the gun," said Jensen, who was unsure if the fleeing man was struck.
Perhaps 10 steps further down the corridor, the gunman fired again, this time killing a young woman with a single shot.
"She screamed as she was coming around the corner, and he shot her," said Marie Smith, a manager at Bath and Body Works. "I didn't hear him say anything to her at all." Witnesses who saw the gunman described him as calm and silent throughout the rampage.
Smith said she briefly saw the gunman's face before ducking behind the counter and crawling to a restroom where she hid with other employees and customers.
Meanwhile, the gunman made his way down the hallway, where he opened fire once again, this time into a gift shop with several people inside. Gunshots shattered the storefront glass, striking and killing at least three people.
After turning the lights off in his store, next door, Dansie peeked around the corner and saw the gunman, who was calmly reloading his gun about 20 feet away.
The exact sequence of the killer's steps and shots has not yet emerged clearly from the chaos. The scene Matt Lund witnessed, as he was escorted out of the mall by police later in the night, was one of "shotgun shells scattered all over the floor and lots of broken windows." Lund, whose wife owns the Secret Garden store, said he also saw a woman's body, lying face down near the Pottery Barn Kids store. It was unclear when that woman was shot or whether she might be the same woman described by Smith.
Also unclear is when Cedric Wilson entered the scene. He ran from the Rodizio Grill, where he works as a waiter, and peered over the rail from the mall's second level, only to see the shooter's gun aimed in his direction.
"He shot at me twice," Wilson said, the bullet's path still evident in his hairline.
Barrett Dodds also saw the shooter from the balcony.
"I heard a shot, I looked down, and I saw the guy shooting into the store," said Dodds, who owns a store at the mall. "The scene was chaotic. People were running into stores and locking doors." With Dodds on the upper level was a man, in plain clothes, who identified himself as an Ogden City police officer.
"He was yelling 'OCPD!' " said Dodds, who led the policeman down a stairway to where he thought the officer could get a view of the gunman.
Dodds said the officer ducked behind a brick column and exchanged fire with the killer.
About the same time, Salt Lake City police officers joined in.
Hidden with his wife and three others in a closet nearby, Lund heard a police officer identify himself to the gunman.
"There was a short pause, then a shotgun blast, and then a barrage of gunfire," Lund said.
From behind the officer, Dodds saw the gunman fall.
Police worked for hours to locate customers and employees who had barricaded themselves in various store rooms, closets and restaurant kitchens while investigators inside the nearby Hard Rock Cafe interviewed dozens of witnesses.
In an early morning press conference, police described the victims. Killed were two 28-year-old women, a 52-year-old man who The Tribune has learned was Jeff Walker, a 24-year-old man and a 15-year-old girl, who was a student in the Jordan School District.
From witness statements to The Tribune, three of the dead were inside the Cabin Fever card store and two, both female, were found outside Bath and Body Works and Pottery Barn Kids.
The spot where police felled the killer has not been disclosed.
At least six people were injured. Four remained in area hospitals Tuesday, among them were a 53-year-old man and a 44-year-old woman, both in critical condition, said police spokeswoman Robin Snyder. A 34-year-old man and a 16-year-old, Bingham High School junior Alan "A.J." Walker, were in serious condition, she said.
Police tape, stretched between parking meters, lamp posts and trees, surrounded the entire four-block area of the historic mall, built from the city's old trolley barns. With a 239,000 square-foot crime scene to examine, scores of witnesses to interview and still few answers, police have released only limited details.
Officers have declined to release the killer's name or speculate on his motive.
A coroner arrived early Tuesday morning, parking near the landmark Trolley Square water tower, as investigators photographed the five bodies, which were carried out in black bags and loaded into the back of several gray trucks.
By 9 a.m., police allowed customers and employees to retrieve their cars. Business owners and managers were being turned away from the stores but were expected to be allowed into the mall by about 2 p.m.
- Tribune reporters Jason Bergreen, Nate Carlisle, Jessica Ravitz and Lisa Rosetta contributed to this story.