PARAMUS, N.J. (AP) – New Jersey’s largest shopping mall reopened with a beefed-up police presence Wednesday morning, 36 hours after a gunman fired shots inside and terrified shoppers and employees before taking his own life. No one else was hurt.
Several local police officers patrolled the mall’s interior as young people, couples pushing baby carriages and senior citizens shopped. Westfield, the Australia-based company that operates the mall, paid for the augmented police presence.
Paramus Police Chief Kenneth Ehrenberg, whose officers were among the first on the scene, said the response to the sounds of gunfire Monday night was quick and that that may have been a factor in hastening 20-year-old Teaneck resident Richard Shoop’s decision to take his own life. Shoop’s body was found around 3:20 a.m. Tuesday in an area of the mall not accessible to the public.
The sound of shots being fired Monday sent shoppers and mall employees scrambling for the exits and into stores to take cover. Many were trapped for hours as police searched for the gunman.
Investigators were looking into Shoop’s activities before the shooting, why he chose the mall and how many shots he fired. Shoop was discovered with “several magazines of ammunition,” Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli tweeted. Initial reports said he fired six shots.
An autopsy was being conducted, and results from toxicology tests were expected to take several weeks to be released.
More than 200 people held a vigil for the gunman Tuesday night.
Celestine Marcelo, 64, a Peru native who has lived in the area for about 30 years, said Wednesday at the mall that he was shocked by the shooting but not naive about the potential dangers that lurk in seemingly innocuous surroundings.
“This can happen anytime, anyplace,” Marcelo said as he looked up at the mall ceiling at a small hole he thought might have been made by a bullet. “We take our chances when we go anywhere. People aren’t happy with their life, they have troubles. Look at the guy out in Los Angeles, look at Boston. But you can’t think about it, you have to just keep going.”
The mall, whose nearly 300 stores include such high-end names as Louis Vuitton, Tiffany, Coach and Gucci, announced in 2005 it was installing cutting-edge surveillance cameras that used computers to scan for images that might warrant a response, such as an unattended package or an unscheduled delivery truck. As recently as two weeks ago, police and mall security officials met to consider upgrading the cameras, Ehrenberg said.
Even the latest gadgets wouldn’t have stopped Shoop from getting into the mall, he added.
“It’s not preventing; it might help us locate him quicker, keep track of him,” Ehrenberg said. “It’s almost impossible to prevent, so you want to mitigate to the highest degree possible. There’s nothing we have in place here that is going to stop him from entering the mall, unless we do a checkpoint.”
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