A gunman who killed two people at a Kroger supermarket in Jeffersontown, Kentucky, on Wednesday tried to enter a predominantly black church minutes before the attack, police have said.
The man, Gregory Bush, 51, of Louisville, appeared in court on Thursday, charged on two counts of murder and 10 counts of wanton endangerment. He was held with bail set at $5m (£3.9m).
Police said they were investigating the motive for the attack, in which Vickie Lee Jones, 67, and Maurice E Stallard, 69 were killed.
Both were black, while Bush is white, and the son of a witness said his father heard the gunman make a racist remark during the episode, though police said they could not confirm that account. Bush has a history of mental illness, Chief Sam Rogers of the Jeffersontown Police Department said at a news conference on Thursday.
Police said there was no indication Bush knew either of the victims, nor did he have any known connection to the grocery shop.
Chief Rogers and church officials said surveillance video had recorded Bush’s unsuccessful attempt to enter the nearby First Baptist Church of Jeffersontown shortly before the attack.
Billy Williams, the church administrator, said eight to 10 people were inside the church when Bush arrived after a midweek service. A church member in the parking lot grew alarmed when she saw him aggressively pulling on the historic church’s front doors. Bush drove away after less than 10 minutes.
“There were 70 people here at our weekly meeting service just an hour before he came by,” said Mr Williams, who was among them. “I’m just thankful that all of our doors and security was in place.”
He added that they were praying for the families of the victims. Both had relatives who attended the church, which recently celebrated its 185th anniversary.
After leaving the church, police said, Bush headed to the Kroger. They said he entered just before 3pm and fired multiple rounds at Stallard. He then exited and fired at Jones in the parking lot, Chief Rogers said, striking her several times.
Bush was stopped by an armed bystander who shot at him in the parking lot, and whose name police have not released. Bush tried to flee, but he was caught by police officers. Chief Rogers said Bush was taken into custody four minutes after police received the first call for help.
Both Stallard and Jones were declared dead at the scene.
Chief Rogers said there were conflicting reports about a second armed bystander in the supermarket, and he could not confirm the account of a local man who spoke to reporters Wednesday.
That man, Steve Zinninger, told a local TV station that his father had also confronted Bush with a firearm. Mr Zinninger said the gunman told his father, “Whites don’t kill whites,” and moved on.
Local media reported that Bush had a long criminal history including charges of assault, domestic violence and threats, including ones using racial epithets.
A Facebook page that appears to belong to Bush includes a lengthy description of his struggles with mental illness.
“My paranoid-schizophrenia finally stopped me from working and now am on mental disability,” it says. “I’m lucky I made it this far with all the trouble I’ve caused myself when I get off my medicine.”
Chief Rogers said officials from the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were assisting in the investigation, and would seek to determine whether the handgun he said Bush used in the attack had been legally obtained.
Stallard was the father of Kellie Watson, who works as Louisville’s chief equity officer. In a statement, Mayor Greg Fischer of Louisville said he was “sick and heartbroken and angry” over what happened, and asked the public to respect the family’s privacy.
Jones’ nephew, Kevin Gunn, said she was “a good Christian woman and wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
In a phone interview, Gunn, 48, said his aunt had retired from the local Veterans Affairs hospital and was helping to care for an elderly family member. He called the shooting “senseless.”
“It seems like much more than mental illness,” he said. “It seems like a hate crime.”
“Yesterday I was sad,” Gunn said. “Today I’m angry.”
The New York Times
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