Crime

Surveillance video shows off-duty officer tracking Costco gunman

As most everyone else fled a gunman in a Lenexa Costco, surveillance video released Thursday shows a swift-moving off-duty officer circling behind the man moments before the officer gunned him down.

Kansas City, Kan., Police Captain Michael Howell, who happened to be shopping that Sunday morning, Nov. 26, is seen catlike with his gun out but concealed behind his right hip as he tracked 58-year-old Ronald O. Hunt.

The officer did “everything right,” Lenexa Police Chief Thomas Hongslo said in a press conference Thursday.

Howell identified himself to Costco employees, ran into the store as everyone was running out. He used “his tactical advantage,” Hongslo said, as he slipped in behind Hunt as he made his way to the back of the store.

Two three-officer teams of Lenexa police were rushing to the scene and entering the store, but those officers would have been at a tactical disadvantage, Hongslo said. It was an “active shooter” situation, he said, so they were rushing in at great risk.

Hunt, with Howell stalking him, moved out of view and the surveillance video did not capture the scene when Howell shot Hunt. But Hongslo said Howell identified himself, shouted at Hunt to drop his gun, and that Hunt refused and pointed his gun at Howell when Howell shot him.

“I think he (Hunt) was there to kill people,” Hongslo said. And Howell “potentially saved officers’ lives also.”

Video shows Hunt entered the store at 11:10 a.m. As Costco employees shouted warnings, customers ran in terror as Hunt, a truck driver based in Edwardsville, walked screaming into the store and waving a gun. The video shows him pointing the gun at an employee behind a front counter, but Hunt did not fire and the employee ducked.

About 1 minute, 40 seconds after Hunt entered the store, video showed him appearing near the back heading toward the far left corner of the store — the same route the escaping customers took. Howell worked his way to the back, getting behind Hunt.

Hunt’s next actions, not seen on the video, were the subject of a multijurisdictional investigation released Wednesday. The report, routine whenever an officer shoots his weapon, said Howell shouted at Hunt to drop his weapon, and then fired on him when Hunt “acted aggressively” and refused. Hunt died from his injuries and no one else was injured.

Hunt did not ever fire his gun, Hongslo said.

No charges were filed against Howell, Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe announced Wednesday, saying Howell “acted with extreme courage, and saved an unknown amount of innocent lives.”

Hongslo also praised the actions of the Costco management and employees.

There was “pandemonium and panic” among the customers in the store, he said, but Costco employees were clear and effective directing people to safety.

“The Costco staff was phenomenal,” he said.

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