Police search for motive in deadly Wal-Mart shooting

James MacPherson and Blake Nicholson
Associated Press

Bismarck, North Dakota — An autopsy will determine if a man who fatally shot one worker and injured a second before killing himself at a North Dakota Wal-Mart store, had drugs or alcohol in his system, police said Wednesday.

“It’s probably the next significant development in this case,” Grand Forks Police Lt. Derik Zimmel said. He did not know when autopsy results would be available.

Police said the shooting at the store in Grand Forks a few minutes after 1 a.m. Tuesday may have been random. Investigators have found no link between the gunman, 21-year-old Marcell Willis, and the store or the employees.

Willis was stationed at Grand Forks Air Force Base, about a dozen miles west of the city.

“There’s no apparent motive that jumps out at this time,” Zimmel said.

“We just need to plug away and talk to witnesses and compile information and continue to flip over stones and rocks and compile every scrap we can,” he said.

Grand Forks Mayor Michael Brown said in a statement that the shooting shook the northeastern North Dakota city of about 55,000 people.

“It is not normal for us in Grand Forks,” the mayor’s statement said.

Authorities didn’t immediately identify the two workers who were shot or a third worker they say Willis shot at but missed. The injured person was taken to Altru Hospital in Grand Forks with a gunshot wound that was not believed to be life-threatening, Zimmel said. An Altru spokeswoman said the person was in satisfactory condition Tuesday afternoon.

Willis was given medical treatment at the scene and taken to Altru, where he was pronounced dead, Zimmel said.

Willis was the only person with a gun and no police officers fired a weapon, according to Zimmel. A handgun was recovered near Willis’ body, Zimmel said.

Zimmel said police believe the airman fired only three shots before shooting himself. Police did not identify the type of handgun or its caliber.

Amy Mehs, Willis’ girlfriend who lives in Hatton, North Dakota, about 35 miles southwest of Grand Forks, was in tears when contacted by The Associated Press Tuesday afternoon.

“I really can’t say anything right now because it’s still under investigation,” she said. “You guys will find out everything eventually.”

Sean Willis of Nashville, Tennessee, said only that his son had been in the military for about three years and was originally from Springfield, Tennessee.

Sgt. David Dobrydney, a base spokesman, said he couldn’t yet release any information about Willis due to Air Force regulations.

About 1,500 airmen are assigned to the Grand Forks Air Force Base, the military said. The base was home to air refueling tankers for 50 years until a round of military base closings and realignments took that away. The last tankers left in 2011 and the base has taken on an unmanned aircraft mission.

The 24-hour Wal-Mart store remained closed early Wednesday while authorities investigated the shooting.