COLLIERVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A gunman who killed one person and wounded 14 others in a Tennessee grocery store did not appear to target anyone specifically as he rampaged through the building on a sunny Thursday afternoon, police said. The entire shooting was over within minutes as first responders swarmed the scene.
On Friday, some of the wounded were still in critical condition and fighting for their lives, Collierville Police Chief Dale Lane said at a morning news conference.
Still, the outcome could have been worse, he said. The shooter died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound within a couple of minutes of police arriving, and they arrived almost immediately at the Kroger in the wealthy suburb outside of Memphis.
The gunman acted alone and was a third-party vendor to the store who was on site on a daily basis, Lane said. He was later identified by Major David Townsend as UK Thang. Police searched his home Thursday and removed electronic devices, Lane said.
“We all want to know the why,” Lane said of the shooter’s motive. “But today, less than 24 hours, we’re not ready to tell you that.”
The victims included 10 employees and five customers.
Lane identified the woman who was killed as Olivia King. Friends told The Commercial Appeal she was a widowed mother of three.
On Facebook, one of King’s sons, Wes King, posted about his mother’s death. He wrote that he had spoken to the trauma surgeon and learned his mother was shot in the chest.
“They tried to save her at the hospital to no avail,” he wrote. “I apologize for the graphic details, but this type of crime needs to stop being glossed over and sanitized. No one deserves this.”
Kroger worker Brignetta Dickerson told WREG-TV she was working a cash register when she heard what at first she thought were balloons popping.
“And, here he comes right behind us and started shooting,” Dickerson said. “And, he kept on shooting, shooting, shooting. He shot one of my co-workers in the head and shot one of my customers in the stomach.”
Lane said police received a call around 1:30 p.m. about the shooting and arrived almost immediately, finding multiple people with gunshot wounds upon entering the building.
He said a police SWAT team and other officers went aisle to aisle plucking panicked people from hiding and taking them out safely. He said the shooter was male but did not identify him further.
“We found people hiding in freezers, in locked offices. They were doing what they had been trained to do: run, hide, fight,” the chief said.
Dickerson, the employee, said her co-worker, who is in his 20s, was shot in the head but able to ask her to notify his mother.
“I left her a voicemail that he was alert and talking,” Dickerson said, unable to immediately reach her.
Another employee, Glenda McDonald, described the chaotic scene to WHBQ-TV.
“I was walking back towards the floral department and I heard a gunshot,” she said. “It sounded like it was coming from the deli. And I ran out the front door and they had already shot the front door.”
Jason Lusk, 39, had just left a tool store beside Kroger when he heard some women screaming in the parking lot about a shooter. He didn’t see the gunman, but heard 10 to 15 rounds in rapid succession at the grocery store.
“It sounded like they were directly over my head,” he said, adding he could feel the concussion of every shot and knew the weapon was powerful. Even at a distance of some 40 yards, he said, he worried that he and others around him were in grave danger.
“As the firing started, I dove in front of my vehicle onto the ground to provide the most cover for myself and instructed the people around me panicking, trying to get into the cars, not to get in their cars, but to actually hide,” he said.
Then police arrived within minutes and “they swarmed that place,” Lusk said. He added that he used his phone to record at least two of the gunman’s final shots, and then a final gunshot on his last recording of the SWAT team on the scene.
At a new briefing afterward, Lane called it a sad day for his department.
“I’ve been involved in this for 34 years and I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said.
Collierville is a growing suburb of more than 51,000 people with a median household income of about $114,000, according to U.S. census figures. Set in a rural and historic area, the town square has largely become known for its boutiques and bed and breakfasts.
Earlier this year, Tennessee became the latest state to allow most adults 21 and older to carry handguns without first clearing a state-level background check and training. The measure was signed into law by Republican Gov. Bill Lee over objections from some law enforcement groups and gun control advocates concerned the measure would possibly lead to more gun violence.
The Kroger Co., based in Cincinnati, Ohio, issued a statement that it was “deeply saddened” by the shooting and was cooperating with law enforcement. The company in 2019 asked its customers not to openly carry guns while visiting its stores.
A Kroger spokesperson said the Collierville store will be closed until further notice.
Lights were still on in the store after nightfall on Thursday, chrysanthemums set out front. The parking lot, entirely roped off with police tape, was still full of cars, with a heavy police presence. Neighboring businesses, including a fast food restaurant and an auto parts store, were closed.
Mattise reported from Nashville. Associated Press writer Carrie Antfinger in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and News Researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this report.