MARYLAND HEIGHTS (AP) — A part-time janitor in the United States (US) has been charged with first-degree murder after he shot and killed a worker at a crowded suburban St Louis community centre before an officer who was outside the building rushed in and opened fire on the gunman, possibly preventing a much larger tragedy, authorities said on Tuesday.
Michael J Honkomp, 30, of the St Louis suburb of Florissant, Missouri, had just been told he was being sent home from work on Monday night “and he reacted with anger”, killing 45-year-old Maria Lucas, the building’s acting supervisor, Maryland Heights police Chief Bill Carson told reporters on Tuesday.
About 150 people were in the Maryland Heights Community Center exercising about 8pm with pickleball, karate classes, swimming and other activities when the gunfire erupted. Carson described a chaotic scene as the shooting unfolded. Employees helped children get out or find a hiding place. Adults took refuge in closets and darkened rooms, some clutching weights as weapons in case the shooter found them.
A patron ran out and found a uniformed officer in the parking lot. The officer ran into the building, engaged the shooter in a gun battle, leaving the shooter seriously wounded, Carson said. The officer was not hurt.
“It’s my belief that the actions of the officer involved were absolutely heroic,” Carson said. “He immediately went and sought out the threat. His actions may have prevented further bloodshed. We don’t know right now the intentions of the gunman.”
Carson declined to name the officer but said he graduated from the police academy just 14 months ago.
Carson declined to say why the janitor was being sent home or if Lucas, a customer service representative who was working the front desk while also serving as the acting supervisor, was involved in the decision.
Carson said the worker confronted Lucas at the front desk, then pulled out a 9mm semiautomatic handgun and shot her in the head.
Several other people near the front desk scattered, while the shooter started pacing back and forth, according to Carson.
The officer had just exited the building after finishing paperwork at a police substation inside the community centre.
When a woman ran out and told him what had happened, “The officer immediately and without hesitation went inside,” Carson said.
The gunman saw the officer coming through a glass door and opened fire, shattering the glass but missing the officer. The officer and gunman then exchanged several shots. The gunman was struck multiple times before becoming incapacitated, Carson said. The officer was not hit.
Police spent hours after the shooting searching to make sure everyone was accounted for.