The man who was fatally shot by police after entering a Target store in Omaha, Nebraska, armed with an AR-15-style rifle had obtained the weapon just four days earlier at a Cabela’s sporting goods store, police said Wednesday. No one else was hurt.
Court records show that the man, identified by police as Joseph Jones, 32, of suburban Omaha, had no prior felony convictions in Douglas County, where Omaha is located. He also had no prior, documented contact with the city's police, records show.
He entered the store around noon Tuesday, where police said he fired several rounds, sending shoppers and workers scrambling for exits and cowering in bathroom stalls. Along with the rifle, he had 13 loaded rifle magazines of ammunition.
Jones’ uncle, Larry Derksen Jr., said his nephew had schizophrenia and that his mental illness left him isolated.
“My nephew went into Target. I believe he had no intention of hurting anybody. He fired off a bunch of rounds,” Derksen told KETV-TV. “He had an AR-15 before law enforcement got there. If he had any intention of killing anybody, he would have. He would have had time to do so.”
Mental health experts say that most people with mental illness are not violent. They are far more likely to be victims of violent crime than perpetrators, and access to firearms is a big part of the problem.
Derksen told KETV that “this was predictable” and that his nephew never should have had a gun.
Callers flooded 911 dispatchers with around 30 calls for help, and Omaha police officers and a Nebraska State Trooper rushed to the scene. They quickly encountered Jones and ordered him to drop the rifle.
Police said Officer Brian Vanderheiden, a 20-year veteran of the city's police force, then fired, striking and killing Jones. The release said Vanderheiden was placed on paid administrative leave per department policy.
Police haven’t yet released a timeline, showing how long Jones was in the store before officers responded, but Omaha police Lt. Neal Bonacci said they are working on one.
After the shooting, officers searched the store three times before declaring the scene safe, according to police. Through the investigation, officers foud bullet casings inside the store.
Cabela's didn't immediately respond to emails from The Associated Press seeking comment.
Bonacci said police are talking to family as they look for a motive. But he added: “I don’t know that we’ll ever necessarily know."
Several other shootings have taken place at stores across the country in recent months, at a time when mass shootings have commanded public attention on a disturbingly frequent basis.
In January, one woman was injured in a shooting at a Walmart store in Evansville, Indiana. Police said it could have been much worse if not for heroic actions by an employee and police. Officers arrived within minutes and fatally shot the gunman. A Walmart manager in Chesapeake, Virginia, killed six people in November when he began shooting wildly inside a break room. Six others were wounded. The gunman shot and killed himself before officers arrived.
In Buffalo, New York, an 18-year-old fatally shot 10 people and injured three others last May, after seeking out a grocery store in a predominately Black neighborhood. Authorities immediately called it a hate crime.
The Omaha shooting came just over 15 years after the deadly December 2007 shooting at an Omaha Von Maur department store, when a 19-year-old gunman killed eight people and himself.