PARAMUS, N.J. — The body of a 20-year-old Teaneck, N.J., man who walked into the Westfield Garden State Plaza mall in Paramus on Monday night and fired six shots, setting off a panicked frenzy and a six-hour manhunt, was found in a storage area inside the shopping center early Tuesday morning with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head, authorities said.
John L. Molinelli, the Bergen County Prosecutor, identified the shooter as Richard Shoop, 20, at a predawn press conference. He said authorities recovered a note from the house Shoop shared with his parents in Teaneck. Molinelli did not describe its contents but said he would not classify it as a suicide note.
Molinelli said Shoop, dressed head-to-toe in black and wearing a black helmet, entered the mall about 10 minutes before it was due to close at 9:30 and fired six rounds from a Sig Sauer rifle that had been modified to resemble an AK-47-style assault rifle. The rounds struck an escalator and an elevator, but Molinelli said Shoop did not appear to be firing at anyone.
None of the witness reported seeing anyone hit by the gunfire, and Jim Tedesco, the deputy coordinator of the Bergen County Office of Emergency Management, confirmed late Monday night that no injuries had been reported.
Witnesses described a chaotic scene that unfolded as the sound of gunshots rang out inside the mall minutes before closing time. Authorities ordered shoppers and employees to huddle behind locked doors in the mall’s stores. Thousands of shoppers were at the mall when the shots rang out, and as many as 400 were locked down inside stores — some for six or more hours — as authorities conducted a painstaking store-by-store, room-by-room search for the gunman, Molinelli said. Shoppers and employees were still being let out of locked stores at 4:30 a.m., the prosecutor said.
An FBI SWAT team found Shoop’s body around 3:20 a.m. in a remote area of the mall that is off-limits to the public, Molinelli said. He described it as being behind an area that is under construction, and said the FBI team had to navigate “a maze of corridors” to access it.
The incident drew hundreds of police officers, including 500 SWAT officers, from across North Jersey as reports of the gunfire spread, authorities said.
“The situation is no longer an active shooter situation,” Tedesco said around 11:15 p.m.
After 1 a.m., dozens of police offers in SWAT gear had assembled outside the Shoop residence in Teaneck. Molinelli said Shoop had a history of drug use, but there was no immediate sign of a motive.
“It was the family that reached out to police” after they saw reports of the shooting on the news, Molinelli said. “The family reached out because they had an indication it was him in there.”
Madison Barbarini, who graduated from Teaneck High School with Shoop in 2011, said she has known the suspect for most of her life. She said Shoop worked the counter at Victor’s, a pizzeria in Teaneck. “We’ve been best friends ever since we were in Kindergarten,” she said early Tuesday morning.
“He’s one of the nicest guys I know,” she added. “I don’t even believe it.”
Molinelli’s office issued a statement shortly after midnight confirming that a “single male” had entered the mall at 9:19 p.m. and fired several shots. Tedesco said a shell casing had been recovered.
Police were reviewing security camera footage to try to determine what had happened to the shooter. In the meantime, Tedesco said, the mall remained in “total lockdown.”
Paramus Mayor Richard LaBarbiera said authorities faced an enormous challenge in escorting shoppers and employees under lockdown orders from the 2.1 million-square-foot shopping mall, which has more than 300 stores, to the relative safety of its vast parking lots.
“This mall is over 2 million square feet,” he said. “We must make sure the entire mall is checked. We are going store by store, floor by floor to evacuate the people inside.”
One witness said the gunman was “strutting by” and talking to himself as he fired at least five shots.
Althea Brown, 26, of Paterson, N.J., said she was in Talbots, a clothing store, when she saw the man walk by.
“He looked at me and kept on walking,” she said. She said she heard three shots, then two more. The man appeared to be wearing body armor, and the visor of his helmet was pulled up as he walked, she said.
Another witness, Shadey Reyes, 24, of Bergen County, was working in the J.Crew store when she heard shots.
“Everyone froze in place,” then ran to the parking lot, she said.
The mall quickly was surrounded by police cars from Paramus and neighboring communities, grouping mainly in the area around the Nordstrom department store. Ambulances gathered at the west side of the mall, poised for mass casualties that never materialized.
Some employees said they had been ordered to stay in their stores behind locked doors until further notice.
Kimberly Recchia, an employee in the bareMinerals store, said she saw a woman screaming, then saw a man firing shots into the air. She said he did not appear to be aiming at anything in particular.
Recchia described the shooter as a man in his late 20s or early 30s. She said she ran to the back of the store with other employees and heard three more shots. After some time, police arrived and yelled, “You guys still here?” Then, she said, police escorted her and the other employees to the parking lot.
Another employee at the bareMinerals store said she heard gunshots shortly before Paramus police ordered the store’s employees to lock the doors and stay inside.
“They told us to stay locked in the room and not to let anyone in,” said the employee, who declined to give her name.
“I heard gunshots,” she added. “I don’t know anything else.”
Another employee, who refused to give his name or the name of the store where he works, said he heard four shots and hid inside the store. He said a police officer came and ordered him to raise his hands.
“I’m an employee,” he said he told the officer, who then ordered him to come out with his hands up.
He said he and four other employees walked to the front of the store with their hands over their heads and were escorted out of the mall.
Lori Perbeck of Jersey City was shopping in the Apple Store on the mall’s second level with her husband, Serge Bukowski, and their daughter, Lola.
“I heard two shots,” Perbeck said, “and everybody in the store dropped down under the tables.” Some customers fled, she said, and others retreated to the back room and huddled with store employees.
After about a half hour, Perbeck said, police arrived to escort them out to the parking lot.
“We heard four pops about 10 minutes before closing,” said Mercedes Heggs, a supervisor at the Uniqlo clothing store. She said she saw a man wearing a “black biker helmet” and carrying a “long gun.”
Al Hickson of Emerson, N.J., rushed to the mall after his daughter called from Love Culture, the store where she works, to say what was happening. He said his daughter told him that mall security officers had told everyone there to get into the bathroom, where they waited to be escorted out by police.
Louis Mena, 17, of Paterson said he was at the AT&T store, located on the first level near the Nordstrom entrance, when he saw a man in black and wearing a helmet walk by in the concourse.
“He was walking, he looked at everybody, then he started jogging, and then he shot up in the air,” Mena said. “I saw glass falling.”
Mena said he took cover in the store and stayed there until someone came in, told everyone it was all clear and escorted them outside.
The Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office asked the public not to come to the mall to pick up loved ones who had contacted them, saying arrangements would be made to get them safely from the scene.
The Westfield Garden State Plaza is the largest mall in New Jersey and one of the largest and busiest in the United States. After Sept. 11, 2001, it and other Paramus malls conducted a number of emergency-response drills designed to prepare mall employees to deal with terror attacks. Renovations at the mall over the past decade added more exits with the goal of making it easier to evacuate the mall in an emergency.
Each year the mall draws more than 20 million visitors who spend over $400 million. It is owned by Westfield Group LLC, an Australian developer of shopping centers. Authorities said early Tuesday morning that the mall would be closed for the day.
Monday’s incident was not the first instance of gunplay at the mall. In 2001, a man was arrested for firing six shots at a former co-worker in the parking lot. All of the shots missed, but the sudden violence left shoppers stunned.
And in 1993, Paramus police officer Vincent Brock died when his cruiser hit a utility pole on Route 4 as he sped to the mall in the wake of a bogus report of a shooting at a restaurant there.