PARAMUS, New Jersey — A 20-year-old man suspected of firing multiple shots and causing a lockdown at New Jersey’s largest shopping mall was found dead of a self-inflicted wound, authorities said Tuesday.
Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli said the body of Richard Shoop, 20, of Teaneck was found in a back area of the Garden State Plaza mall in Paramus. He said Shoop killed himself with the same weapon he used at the mall and that a note was found. There were no other injuries.
Paramus Police Kenneth Ehrenberg said Shoop’s body was discovered around 3:20 a.m. Tuesday deep within a lower level of the mall that is not a public area. Shoop did not work at the mall, he said, and police are still seeking a possible motive for the shooting.
Bergen County spokeswoman Jeanne Baratta said SWAT teams concentrated their search in the northeast corner of the 2.2-million-square-foot (200,000-square-meter) mall in Paramus, New Jersey, near a Nordstrom department store.
Baratta said a call was received saying shots were fired at the facility shortly before the mall’s 9:30 p.m. closing time Monday night.
The family of Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, popularly dubbed “America’s Rabbi,” were among those trapped in a New Jersey mall after multiple shots were fired shortly before closing time Monday.
In a lengthy Facebook post he titled “My Family’s Terror at the NJ Garden State Mall,” Boteach shared Monday night’s dramatic events as an eye-witness, and perhaps a key player in mobilizing NJ police.
As Boteach and the youngest three of his nine children entered the Best Buy electronics store to collect his wife and 15-year-old daughter, they were met with panicked, fleeing customers shouting, “Shooter. Run!”
Boteach described how he and the three children turned around and ran to the parking lot where he attempted to make contact with his wife.
“There is no need to think. I am not in shock but clear-headed. There have been so many shootings lately in America that I know exactly what this is,” Boteach wrote.
After several tense moments the rabbi made contact with his wife and learned his family is in hiding. He called 911 emergency response which advised him to tell his wife to continue hiding and not come out.
It is at this point that Boteach the famous “macher” began to work his contacts, starting with the owner of the mall who alerted the head of security of the family’s location.
A close friend of New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, Boteach and wife were guests at Booker’s swearing in last Thursday. Boteach sent a text message to him and his adviser.
Boteach wrote, “I text him in bold letters. ‘CORY THERE IS A SHOOTER IN THE GARDEN STATE MALL!!’”
The adviser was immediately on the phone with the local police.
“His adviser proceeds to call me every few minutes and calls my wife as well. He is an angel from heaven,” wrote Boteach.
Later, Booker himself called Boteach. “Senator Booker calls in terrible anxiety to ask if my wife is OK. At that moment, as if by a miracle, she calls on the other line and tells me that the SWAT teams have come to move them out. I connect the calls on my phone. Cory, ever the gentleman, tells my wife not to panic and he is so happy to hear she is OK. His warmth and caring comforts us both.”
Several other eye-witness accounts were recorded on Twitter and other social media in real time.
Paramus Police Chief Kenneth Ehrenberg said in a news release early Tuesday that the suspect was dressed in black and was wearing what is believed to be a motorcycle helmet. A weapon has not yet been recovered.
Witnesses said the sound of gunfire sent customers and employees rushing for the exits and hiding places.
Baratta said authorities found one bullet casing.
Hundreds of law enforcement officers converged on the mall, which was put on lockdown. New Jersey State Police landed a helicopter in the parking lot of one of the state’s largest and most popular shopping malls.
Baratta said SWAT teams and police with canine units were going through the mall and working to evacuate anyone still inside. As of early Tuesday, authorities believed there were still people in the mall, she said.
At around 1 a.m. Nordstrom tweeted that everyone in their store had been released safely. “Our thoughts are with those still involved. We hope for a swift resolution,” the tweet said.
The mall later tweeted its thanks to law enforcement saying, “We are sincerely grateful for the rapid response from law enforcement.” It said Garden State Plaza Mall would be closed on Tuesday.
Nick Woods was working in the Lego store when a woman ran by shouting that there was a shooting.
Woods said his supervisor locked them in a back room, along with a woman, a man and a child. When they finally peeked out two hours later, he said they saw police officers standing outside and he called the police emergency dispatcher to ask that the officers be told they were coming out.
He said the emergency operator told him she couldn’t contact individual police officers and that he should walk out with his hands in the air.
“I had to go out of the store shouting at the officers with my hands up, and they turned and pointed their guns at me,” Woods said. “It was one of the scariest experiences of my life.”
Jessica Stigliano, 21, of Richfield, New Jersey, told the AP that she was sitting in the mall’s food court when she saw people running and yelling “shots were fired.”
Stigliano said she also began running. She said at the time she was thinking, “Not many people run for their life, but that’s what I’m doing right now.”
Carlos Sinde, 36, of Astoria, Queens, said he was at the mall to see the 9:20 p.m. showing of the movie “Gravity” when the fire alarms went off and the movie stopped. He said he walked into the mall where someone was saying “I think there was a shooting,” but he didn’t take them seriously. Then, security guards ran up, urging customers to leave. He said one female security guard was crying.
“Once the security guards started telling us what was going on, that’s when there was hysteria,” he said.
Early Tuesday, families were being escorted by police to a Chili’s restaurant on the outskirts of the mall area to be reunited with others who had been in the mall for hours.
Althea Brown, 26, of Paterson, told NorthJersey.com she was in a clothing store when she saw a man walk by and then heard three shots followed by two more. She said he appeared to be wearing body armor and was wearing a helmet with the visor pulled up.
Several frightened customers sent tweets saying they were escorted from the mall by armed state troopers. One woman wrote that she ran from the mall “screaming.”
The mall, which has more than 270 stores, is located in Bergen County, about 15 miles (24 kilometers) northwest of Manhattan.