HACKENSACK, N.J. — The gun that a 20-year-old New Jersey man used to shoot up the Garden State Plaza, and ultimately turned on himself had previously been confiscated by police and was only recently returned to the shooter’s brother by order of a judge, authorities said Tuesday.
Police previously took possession of the rifle — modified to look like an AK-47 and registered to Richard Shoop’s brother, Kevin Shoop — after what Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli said “may have been a domestic violence incident.” Recently — perhaps within the last few weeks, Molinelli said — a judge granted a request to return the gun to its owner, Molinelli said. A friend of the Shoops said the gun was returned last week.
On Monday night, as the mall was closing, Richard Shoop, of Teaneck, walked into the mall dressed in black and wearing a motorcyle helmet and fired at least six times, including one self-inflicted fatal shot in what authorities described as a storage area of the massive mall.
No bystanders were hurt, but the incident set off a lockdown, with thousands of shoppers and mall workers trapped in stores for hours as SWAT teams looked for what they feared was a shooter on the loose.
Authorities later said Shoop had stolen the gun from his older brother, Kevin Shoop. It was still unclear late Tuesday when and why the gun was confiscated and where it was stored when Shoop took it Monday, and which judge had made the decision. The younger Shoop lived with his parents on in Teaneck.
On Tuesday a clearer but still conflicted portrait also emerged of the shooter — a well-liked 2011 Teaneck High graduate who worked long hours in a local pizzeria but was also known by authorities as a low-level drug dealer. A friend said he had recently become increasingly “paranoid” after an arrest earlier this year, and he sent a text message earlier Monday and left a note for his family that authorities said hinted at his dramatic end.
He was arrested in April in Hackensack for drug possession, authorities said, after a traffic stop. Shoop, driving the same 2003 blue Nissan Z300 that he took to the mall on Monday, initially told an officer that he was delivering pizza after he was pulled over for making an illegal turn. But after the officer questioned him further, he pulled out a bag of MDMA, also known as Ecstasy or Molly, from his underwear and gave it to the officer.
Police said it appeared to be for personal use.
Molinelli said the shooter had had run-ins with police in other towns, as well.
“It’s not a long list, but there’s no doubt law enforcement considered Shoop engaged in activities in the drug transaction trade,” the prosecutor said.
A text that Shoop sent to a friend, Bonnie Benedict, 20, only hours before the shooting indicates that he was anxious about police surveillance.
“I’m either gonna go away for a long time, die, or make a run for it,” he wrote at about 1:30 p.m. to Benedict, who read the message to a reporter. “I’m willing to give you my car and you can keep it. Cops have been watching my house for the past four days now. I have only maybe one more day before they come for me. The car is yours. I’ll sign the title and you drive off. Don’t take this the wrong way.”
She didn’t answer.
Around 6 p.m. on the night of the shooting, she said, he sent another text that simply said: “Sorry.”
Molinelli said Shoop also left a note at his home. The language in the note, he said, could be interpreted in different ways.
“It could mean, yes, I’m going to end my life, or I’m about to get arrested and go away for a long time.”
Asked if Shoop was paranoid, mentally ill, or whether police had been, in fact, monitoring Shoop, Mollinelli said: “It could be all of the above.”
He added: “He might have had a mental illness — we’ll continue to look at that. But as of right now, nothing has been brought to our attention to indicate a mental illness.”
(Staff writer Hannan Adely contributed to this story.)
©2013 The Record (Hackensack, N.J.)
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PHOTOS (from MCT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): NJ-MALL-SHOOTING
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