More than a year after gunfire shattered the calm of a Saturday afternoon at an Independence shopping center, two people hit by bullets still haven’t gotten over it.
By BRIAN BURNES
The Kansas City Star
They said as much in court last week before the shooter, Eric Bratton, was sentenced to 64 years in prison.
The shooting, which happened Jan. 14, 2012, at Independence Center, sent shoppers and employees sprinting for safety, some huddling behind racks of clothing inside mall stores.
Police from several jurisdictions responded, shutting down the mall for several hours.
According to trial testimony, Dilon Yates and Rochelle Moore were walking into the mall when Yates and Bratton got into a confrontation. Bratton pulled a .45-caliber handgun from his waistband and fired three shots, witnesses said.
Both were hit, and their testimony recalled the chaos of that day. Their injuries, they said, left lingering psychological effects.
Moore, who was wounded in the foot, testified that the shooting made that day “the scariest day of my life.”
“There was an angel there,” said Moore, adding that without one, her friend Yates “would be 6 feet under.”
After the shooting, she said, she withdrew from family and friends.
“I isolated myself,” she said. “I lost all my friends. I couldn’t trust anyone.”
Yates, in a letter read by Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, said he has had trouble sleeping since he being shot in the leg and often finds himself anxious amid crowds.
“Since that day I have changed the way I look at going out,” he said.
Baker told Jackson County Circuit Court Judge James Kanatzar that the incident could have been much worse
“It is only luck and the grace of God that prevented more chaos,” Baker said. “We are also asking that you restore our community, restore our sense of personal safety.”
Kanatzar responded by imposing consecutive sentences amounting to 64 years: 25 years on each of two counts of armed criminal action, and seven years on each of two counts of assault.
Kanatzar acknowledged that Bratton had family members who loved him.
“I have a defendant before me who obviously has much positive support,” Kanatzar said. “So it’s difficult to weigh that against the balance of his actions. I have to be concerned with the safety of the community, regardless of where they reside.”
Independence-area leaders said they, too, remain concerned about security in shopping areas. Several city and law enforcement officials attended the sentencing.
Some, like Independence Mayor Don Reimal, praised the work of prosecutors.
Others either praised the sentence imposed or pledged continued vigilance of security at the shopping center.
“I think the judge sent a loud and clear message that that type of activity won’t be tolerated,” said Jackson County Sheriff Mike Sharp, whose forces were among those responding to the shooting.
Independence Police Capt. Ed Turner said this week that maintaining effective security at the mall represented a “constant effort.”
The department, he added, long has had two officers assigned to the mall, one working days and one working nights. The mall, he added, also hires off-duty Independence officers for particular shifts.
Police remain in radio contact with their two mall officers, Turner said, and the department also can communicate quickly with the mall’s own security personnel.
“In light of any critical incident, we continually evaluate our abliity to coordinate the best security protection that we can,” Turner said.
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