Police: Grocery store gunman was vendor, didn't have target
Collierville, Tenn. — A gunman who killed one person and wounded 14 others in a Tennessee grocery store did not appear to target anyone specifically as he rampaged through the building on a sunny Thursday afternoon, police said. The entire shooting was over within minutes as first responders swarmed the scene.
On Friday, some of the wounded were still in critical condition and fighting for their lives, Collierville Police Chief Dale Lane said at a morning news conference.
Still, the outcome could have been worse, he said. The shooter, a “third-party vendor" who police said worked at the store on a daily basis, died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound within a couple of minutes of police arriving at the Kroger in the upscale suburb outside of Memphis.
The gunman, who Lane said acted alone, was later identified by Major David Townsend as UK Thang. Police searched his home Thursday and removed electronic devices, Lane said.
“We all want to know the why," Lane said of the shooter's motive. "But today, less than 24 hours, we’re not ready to tell you that.”
The victims included 10 employees and five customers.
Lane identified the woman who was killed as Olivia King. Friends told The Commercial Appeal she was a widowed mother of three.
On Facebook, one of King’s sons, Wes King, posted about his mother’s death. He wrote that he had spoken to the trauma surgeon and learned his mother was shot in the chest.
“They tried to save her at the hospital to no avail,” he wrote. “I apologize for the graphic details, but this type of crime needs to stop being glossed over and sanitized. No one deserves this.”
Kroger worker Brignetta Dickerson told WREG-TV she was working a cash register when she heard what at first she thought were balloons popping.
“And, here he comes right behind us and started shooting,” Dickerson said. “And, he kept on shooting, shooting, shooting. He shot one of my co-workers in the head and shot one of my customers in the stomach.”
Lane said police received a call around 1:30 p.m. about the shooting and arrived almost immediately, finding multiple people with gunshot wounds upon entering the building.
He said officers of every rank ran into the building and were joined by off-duty fireman. There was no delay in providing medical help, he said.
“Nobody wants to go into that scene, I can promise you," Lane said. “I mean, there were bloody people running out of that building, and there was not one blue uniform that hesitated, from the bottom all the way up. We’re in there trying to help.”
Lane said a police SWAT team and other officers went aisle to aisle plucking panicked people from hiding in freezers and locked offices and taking them out safely.
Jason Lusk, 39, had just left a tool store beside Kroger when he heard some women screaming in the parking lot about a shooter. He didn’t see the gunman, but heard 10 to 15 rounds in rapid succession at the grocery store.
“It sounded like they were directly over my head,” he said, adding he could feel the concussion of every shot and knew the weapon was powerful.
“As the firing started, I dove in front of my vehicle onto the ground to provide the most cover for myself and instructed the people around me panicking, trying to get into the cars, not to get in their cars, but to actually hide,” he said.
Collierville is a growing suburb of more than 51,000 people with a median household income of about $114,000, according to U.S. census figures. Set in a rural and historic area, the town square has largely become known for its boutiques and bed and breakfasts.
Earlier this year, Tennessee became the latest state to allow most adults 21 and older to carry handguns without first clearing a state-level background check and training. The measure was signed into law by Republican Gov. Bill Lee over objections from some law enforcement groups and gun control advocates concerned the measure would possibly lead to more gun violence.
The Kroger Co., based in Cincinnati, Ohio, issued a statement Friday morning saying it was “horrified and heartbroken” by the shooting and was cooperating with law enforcement. The company in 2019 asked its customers not to openly carry guns while visiting its stores.
The statement confirmed that the shooter was a third-party vendor but declined to provide additional details and referred questions to the Collierville Police Department.
The Collierville store will be closed until further notice but will continue to provide pay and other support to employees, the statement said.
Mattise and Loller reported from Nashville, Tennessee. Associated Press writer Carrie Antfinger in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and News Researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this report.