PARAMUS, N.J. (PIX11) — Richard Shoop’s fateful choice not to shoot anyone at the Garden State Plaza Mall Monday night is consistent with how he was, according to family, friends and his boss.
Two of his friends who were close to Shoop since middle school say he’d never hurt anyone, and chose not to do so Monday. He always did everything big, they said, and may have wanted to end him life in a dramatic way.
At the pizzeria where he worked, Victor’s in his hometown of Teaneck, he was seen as positive, sober and reliable employee.
This richer picture of Shoop was emerging as authorities tried to understand why he ended his life as he did.
Shoop, 20, of Teaneck, N.J., acted alone and apparently never intended to hurt anybody else, authorities said.
His body was discovered by SWAT teams at 3:20 a.m. with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He used a rifle that authorities say he stole from his brother. He had a history of drug abuse, including MDMA or Molly, Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli said at a news conference.
“We do believe the main motive of what he did tonight was suicide., whether self-inflicted or God forbid suicide by cop,” Molinelli said. “It does not appear that he entered the mall to actually shoot anyone.”
Shoop fired into an elevator area, and damaged some store facades, and some shots were fired straight up, officials said. The manner in which he shot suggests clearly he had no intention to harm anyone, as there were many people who were within the reach of his bullets, authorities said.
“This is the nightmare scenario, but fortunately, it didn’t become a nightmare. The only person here who had any injuries obviously is the deceased shooter,” said police chief Kenneth Ehrenberg. “We had trained … we were ready for the incident.”
Monday night, while there were thousands of shoppers still in the stores, Shoop allegedly fired six rounds indiscriminately in the mall about 9 p.m. but struck nobody. His rifle had been modified to look like an AK-47, but was a “lawful” rifle. It has the caliber of a .22, Molinelli said.
He committed suicide in a long-term storage area behind a construction zone in the mall, police said at a news conference after 4 a.m. Tuesday. The area he chose to commit suicide was described as a “literal byzantine area of new construction,” Molinelli said. It’s a winding area that is not easily accessible to the public and far away from where he entered.
He was wearing a motorcycle helmet and blue jeans, officials said. He was not wearing body armor, contradicting witness reports from last night.
Some 400 people were locked into the stores when the lockdown went into effect. Thousands of others scrambled out of the mall in a panic after Shoop allegedly opened fire in an open area of the mall.
“Everyone was just running and no one would stop to tell us anything,” said mall employee Kassandra Asturias. “Then maybe after a few minutes we see a security guard and he’s telling us to go inside, lock the door, turn off the lights and just wait until someone tells us what to do.”
The 17-year-old and her co-workers were evacuated by a police officer around 12:30 a.m.
Police entered immediately after arriving at the mall, which is 2.5 million square feet. Shoop got away, disappearing into the vast mall.
The mall will remain closed on Tuesday.
“Once cleared to reopen, Westfield Garden State Plaza will resume its regular schedule of operations, and will continue to work with law enforcement and public safety officials to keep our shopping center safe,” the mall operator said in a statement.
One witness, who works in a Swatch store, told PIX11 he saw “a gunman walk in through a California Pizza Kitchen, he was wearing full body armor, a helmet and everything; he walked right past the movers and told them, like ‘I’m not going to hurt you’ and he walked all the way over toward the Nordstrom side and that’s where the gunshots were fired.”
Enrique Rodriguez, who was shopping in the Apple Store at the time, said, “I don’t know if he was aiming at cameras, or aiming at lights,” but Rodriguez confirmed the man was firing up in the direction of the glass roof of the atrium. “We heard loud sounds and then we just saw glass falling.”
“He wasn’t shooting the people, he was just walking quite calmly,” said one woman. “He started shooting really badly and I just started running backwards into the Apple Store.”
She told PIX11 that he was wearing what looked like a motorcycle helmet and had a “very long rifle.”
A woman who identified herself only as Jay, who was also at the mall, said she recognized Shoop right away from his photo on the news.
“When I saw his tattoos on the picture… I’m like it’s obviously him,” she said.
She is a regular customer the pizzeria where Shoop worked and said he was always friendly.
“I would never have expected this from him. He was always full of joy, you could always see him smiling,” she said.
Police and SWAT teams from surrounding areas, along with state police, rushed to the scene. Ambulances stood at the ready, but were not needed as customers and employees flooded into the parking lot unharmed.
More than 200 police officers converged on the scene, illuminating the expansive parking lots with flashing blue and red lights.
The Garden State Plaza, which is the largest mall in New Jersey, wasn’t very crowded at the time of the shooting, according to witnesses, as the mall closes at 9:30 p.m.
“We just dropped everything, and other people dropped their stuff and ran out of the store,” said Jackie Gorelick, who was in the Lord & Taylor store when the shooting began. “It was very scary, I’m just shaken up by it.”
The prosecutor said investigators were helped by family members who came forward. Shoop, officials said, left a note at his home, though the contents have not been revealed.
“It is because my son Richard… I am heartbroken over this,” Shoop’s father, Charles, said at his home, where family members were arriving Tuesday morning. “Just imagine if this was one of your kids.”