(Video of news conference with Indiana State Police Sgt. Trent Smith)
(Video interview with a man whose mother was working in Martin's at the time of the shooting)
ELKHART — Armed with a semi-automatic handgun and a large knife, a local man shot and killed two women in an Elkhart grocery store before being shot and killed by Elkhart police officers Wednesday night, Jan. 15.
The unidentified shooter, described as a 22-year-old white male from the Elkhart area, entered the main doors of Martin's Super Market, 3900 East Bristol Street, just after 10 p.m., according to Indiana State Police.
The two women killed were a 20-year-old employee and a 44-year-old shopper.
Sgt. Trent Smith of the Indiana State Police said the officers were in the area on Elkhart's northeast side on an unrelated call when the Elkhart City 911 Dispatch Center received a emergency call from inside the store. The Elkhart Police Department arrived on the scene in about three minutes.
Smith said when the Elkhart officers responded, they heard gunfire as they entered the store and followed the sound to where they found the man pointing his gun at a man forced to his knees.
Video surveillance showed that upon making eye contact with the police officer, the man started running, Smith said.
The shooter's two victims were found 10 to 12 aisles apart in the store, Smith said. There were about 12 to 15 people inside of the supermarket at the time of the shooting, Smith said. Police think the gunman fired off seven or eight rounds.
The Elkhart Police Department turned the investigation over to the ISP as is the department's standard procedure for officer-involved shootings.
Witnesses were taken to the Elkhart Police Department where they were being interviewed by state police detectives early Thursday morning. Crime scene technicians and additional state police detectives were combing the store for evidence, a process Smith said could take 12 hours or longer.
“It's a huge crime scene,” Smith said. “It's from one end (of the store) to the next.”
Smith said the store has “an extensive security system” and police will review footage from the store's security cameras.
Police have not yet established a connection between the shooter and the victims, but the investigation continues. Smith said police must still finish interviews, interview family members, both of the victims and the suspect, and track down where the gun came from among other parts of their investigation.
No one else in the store was injured, Smith said.
Elkhart police officers are trained to handle active shooter scenarios and Smith said that training “played a huge role” in ending the incident without additional casualties.
Active shooter training for police has become more common with a number of high-profile incidents over the last decade, he said.
“If you said 'active shooter' 10 years ago, no one would have known what you were talking about,” Smith said.
“That's today's society, unfortunately,” Smith said. “We hoped that this would never come to our hometown, but here it is.”
Tony Beltran of Elkhart said his mother works in the deli at the store.
“I was ready to go to bed when I got a phone call from my mother, she was obviously upset,” Beltrain said. “She told me she heard what sounded like gun shots.”
Beltran's mother said the store had been evacuated and she was outside when she called him.
“At first I didn't believe her,” he said. “As reality set in, and her being upset, I knew something was wrong.”
“It makes me feel angry obviously,” Beltran said. “This world I guess is kind of screwed up right now. You can't even go to the grocery store and be safe.”
Other businesses near Martin's were put on lockdown during the incident.
Jessica Smith, general manager of the Fat Tomato Italian restaurant nearby, said she and about 20 other people were told to stay inside until police gave the all-clear.
“It was very scary,” Jessica Smith said.
Several of the Fat Tomato's employees also work at Martin's and were devastated by the shooting.
“The Fat Tomato as a business will do anything we can to help (the familes),” she said.
On its Facebook page, Martin's offered this statement: “Thank you to our community for your thoughts and prayers tonight. We will comment further when we can do so responsibly and appropriately.”