A man with an AR-15-style rifle and “plenty of ammunition” opened fire inside a Target store in Omaha, sending panicked shoppers and employees scrambling for safety before he was fatally shot by police Tuesday afternoon, authorities said.
Police said the white man in his 30s fired multiple rounds as he entered the store, but it wasn’t immediately known if he fired at anyone. No other injuries were reported. Police Chief Todd Schmaderer said officers searched the store several times looking for victims “because there were some people hiding in there.”
Target employee Lauren Murphy had just started her break and was in the store's front restroom when she heard the shots. She got a text telling her to either stay put or run — so she hid in a bathroom stall, lifting her feet off the ground, and began texting her family and friends to say she loved them. A child next to her was crying.
“I was scared that this is how I might die at work,” said Murphy, 21.
“I was just clutching onto the side of the toilet getting my feet off the ground, making sure I wasn’t visible,” she added.
Another 21-year-old employee, Samuel Jacobsen, was filling a personal shopping order when he heard the first gunshot. But he wasn’t sure what the sound was, and kept working.
“Then my coworker ran by and she said, ‘He’s got a gun, get out!’” Jacobsen said. “I was like, ‘Oh this is real. I have to get out, I have to get out, I have to get out.’”
He hid behind the store, texting coworkers to make sure they were OK.
Cathy Mahannah, a customer, said the scene inside was “sheer panic.”
The 62-year-old grandmother was near the store’s entrance picking out Valentine’s Day gifts for her family when she heard a banging sound. She thought something had fallen, then saw a mass of people running for the exit.
A shopper told her there was an active shooter, and she ran. She heard at least one more shot in the store and a few more when she was outside.
Mahannah was so rattled she initially couldn’t find her car and jumped into a vehicle with a stranger.
“The moments in that parking lot were terrifying when I heard the shots and thought, ‘Where do I hide? I don’t know what to do,'” she said.
Schmaderer said there were several 911 calls shortly before noon and officers were at the store within minutes.
“The first arriving officers went into the building, confronted the suspect and shot him dead,” Schmaderer said. “He had an AR-15 rifle with him and plenty of ammunition.”
Agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives happened to be nearby and helped get victims to safety, bureau spokesperson John Ham said.
The ATF is tracing the weapon to determine where it came from, whether it was acquired legally and whether it has been used in other crimes, Ham said.
Target spokesperson Brian Harper-Tibaldo said in a statement that all shoppers and employees were safely evacuated from the store, which will remain closed indefinitely.
Lt. Neal Bonacci, a police spokesperson, said officers are trained to enter such scenes quickly to prevent mass casualties.
“We’ve learned a lot from other jurisdictions, other areas, other cities that have unfortunately experienced this,” he said. “We enter right away. We’re trained to do so. Whether it’s one officer or 10, we go inside and neutralize the threat.”
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 a Von Maur department store, when a 19-year-old gunman killed eight people and himself.
Nebraska allows gun owners to carry firearms — including assault-style rifles — in public view, as long as they don’t have a criminal record that bars them from possessing one and aren’t in a place where guns are prohibited. To legally conceal a gun, Nebraskans must submit to a state patrol background check, get fingerprinted and take a gun safety course.
Republican state Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon is sponsoring a bill that would allow people to carry concealed handguns without a permit. The measure also would prohibit cities and counties from issuing local laws with more stringent controls than the state law. The proposal has 25 cosponsors.
Jacobsen, the store employee, said he wants stricter, not looser, gun laws.
“As someone who grew up here, I always hear about this part of Omaha and west Omaha being so safe,” he said. But Tuesday's shooting “really drives it home that it could happen anywhere.”