ELKHART, Ind. – The manager of an Indiana grocery store where a shopper and employee had just been fatally shot was on his knees in front of the gunman and appeared to be praying when police entered, catching the shooter’s eye and giving the manager enough time to run.
That split-second diversion likely saved the manager’s life and enabled police to chase down Shawn Walter Bair and kill him Wednesday night before anyone else in the Martin’s Super Market was harmed.
With the gunman distracted, the manager ran down a store aisle, Indiana State Police Sgt. Trent Smith said at a news conference Thursday. Bair then ran down a parallel aisle before stopping and doing something with his gun and pulling out a large knife. Officers clearing people from the store suddenly found themselves 10 feet away and shot him, Smith said.
Officers found the bodies of 20-year-old Krystle Dikes of Elkhart, who had just recently started working at Martin’s, and 44-year-old customer Rachelle Godfread of Elkhart about 12 aisles apart. Godfread was shot multiple times, Smith said.
Police were still seeking a motive, even as a few details about the gunman started to emerge.
Bair, 22, of Elkhart, was convicted four years ago of stealing from another Martin’s store in Elkhart. On his Facebook page he had pictures of serial killers and wrote about Lucifer, going to hell and about realizing “that everybody should die.” He also wrote that, “In order to Love you must Hate because you can’t love without hate and you can’t hate without love because without love you would have nothing to hate.”
People at the home where he lived declined comment to The Associated Press on Thursday. Neighbors who lived across the street said people who lived in the home were quiet, but said Bair would wave and say hello.
Among the things police are looking at is whether there was any relationship between Bair and any of his victims.
“It was obvious that he was going to the store with a mission,” Smith said. “As far as how in-depth the planning phase was, this was something he thought of today or six months ago, I can’t really comment on that. We don’t know at this point.”
Smith said Bair, who lived more than four miles from the store and apparently walked there, entered the store around 9:30 p.m. wearing a heavy overcoat. A security guard who knew Bair became suspicious as he watched because Bair wasn’t buying anything.
“He took his time. I think he might have been hesitant while he was in the store. But whether he was watching people or picking out people, we’ll never know,” Smith said.
Smith said surveillance video from the store showed Bair shot at another employee shortly after shooting Dikes but missed as she fled. She escaped unharmed.
The first call to police came in about two minutes after Dikes was shot. Smith said some people inside the store didn’t immediately realize they were hearing gunfire.
“We saw confusion. We saw people running. We saw people hiding. We saw people peeking around the corner,” Smith said. “It’s like anything. People walk around and you expect to be safe when you’re in an environment you’re familiar with. You expect to be safe in a grocery store that’s in your neighborhood.”
Smith said the manager didn’t appear to know what was happening when he went to see what the disturbance was. The manager was walking down an aisle when Bair turned the corner and pointed the gun at him, holding him hostage for two minutes until police arrived.
“The bravery and the quick response of the Elkhart Police Department saved lives. There’s no doubt,” said Smith, who also praised the actions of store employees who helped customers get out.
State police were investigating the incident because the Elkhart Police Department was involved in the shooting, Smith said.
The store remained closed Thursday. Crime tape blocked off the parking lot, where a half dozen snow-covered vehicles sat.
“The entire Martin’s family is saddened by this tragedy,” company President and CEO Rob Bartels said in a news release.
Mayor Dick Moore called the shootings “tragic and senseless.”
“We must offer our condolences and our sympathies and our prayers to the families of the victims,” he said.
Elkhart is in far northern Indiana, just south of the Indiana-Michigan border, and about 15 miles east of South Bend.