Crime

‘I thought I was going to die’: Shoppers in terror as off-duty officer kills armed man at Lenexa Costco

A man who brandished a gun inside a busy Costco Wholesale store Sunday in Lenexa was shot and killed by an off-duty police officer who was there shopping, according to Lenexa police.

Police responded shortly after 11 a.m. to the store near 95th Street and Interstate 35. When officers arrived, they found that the shooting was over. An off-duty officer who happened to be in the store shopping had fatally shot the armed man, said Lenexa Police Capt. Wade Borchers.

Customers and employees fled through the store when the man, shouting and carrying a gun, stood just inside the entrance, said Betty Willits, 82, of Merriam.

“I thought I was going to die,” she said, remembering her frantic struggle to keep up with those fleeing as employees shouted, “Run! Run! Run to the back!”

Lenexa police did not say which agency the off-duty officer worked for, but several news reports said he was a Kansas City, Kan., Police Department officer. No one else was injured and police were not looking for anyone else involved in the shooting.

The off-duty officer “was shopping, just happened to be there when all of this occurred,” Borchers said. “Thankfully he was.”

The store was busy with holiday weekend shoppers when the shooting occurred, sparking a “mass exodus” of customers trying to get out of the parking lot, Borchers said. The store’s parking lot has only two exits.

Kansas Highway Patrol troopers stopped customers leaving the parking lot to get their names and contact information in case they were needed later in the investigation.

Police are still investigating exactly what the armed man said and did when he entered the store. They did not say what type of firearm he had.

“All I know right now is he brandished the firearm,” Borchers said. “Thankfully, there was an off-duty officer inside the store. And nobody got hurt.

“I don’t know what the subject’s intent was but before anything really bad could happen, he was stopped.”

Police alerted the public shortly before noon, saying the shooting was over and was under investigation.

Police remained at the store for several hours. Yellow crime scene tape surrounded the store’s expansive parking plot.

Law enforcement officers from surrounding agencies also responded to the incident.

“I’d speculate that police from every agency in the county that had any able people they could cut loose, they came and helped us out,” Borchers said. “There were a lot of police cars here.”

The shooting is being investigated by the Johnson County Multi-Jurisdictional Officer Involved Shooting Investigation Team.

Police asked anyone who was at the store during the shooting to call Lenexa police 913-477-7301 if they have not already spoken with an investigator.

Witnesses described how the armed man entered the store, how shoppers fled the area or crouched in hiding, and how the sound of gunshots ended the episode.

The armed man was shouting as he approached the store, said Willits, the shopper from Merriam, who was near the front entrance at the customer service line. Some employees were shouting to close the metal security doors, but they couldn’t get the doors with their rattling chains down in time.

Suddenly he was in, she said, with a gun in his left hand down at his side. His unintelligle shouts were “louder than I heard anyone yell before…and I thought, ‘Oh my God.’”

Moments later, outside the back door catching her breath, Willits said, she heard employees say that there was a policeman inside the store. “Then we heard pop! pop! pop! pop! pop! — five or six — and they said those were gunshots.”

Another shopper said she was in the middle of the store, looking at bedding, when she heard yelling near the front entrance.

“It kept getting louder, then more people were yelling, and they were saying ‘Get to the back of the store,’” said Michelle Folks of Lenexa.

Folks was one of many customers who fled the building through an emergency exit. In the process, she was separated from her husband. As she ran outside, she saw he was calling her cellphone.

She found him outside, where shoppers and store employees gathered. While there, she heard about six gunshots that sounded like they were coming from inside the rear portion of the store.

Customer Nikki Lotia of Olathe remained inside the store, hiding in the pharmacy and barricaded behind some chairs, while the shooting unfolded.

“I didn’t know what happened,” Lotia said. “I heard people say, ‘Run to the back, run to the back, there’s a shooting.’”

“I just kept praying and praying,” she said.

Lotia called 911 and texted her son to tell him what was happening.

Eventually, two police officers found her and escorted her from the store.

Borcher said he wouldn’t speculate about what might have happened if the off-duty officer hadn’t acted.

“You hate to guess what might have happened, but what we do know for sure is nobody else got hurt and everything we were worried about inside the store is now safe.”

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