A man who opened fire in a crowded shopping mall with an assault weapon, wounding two, seemed to have a “lurid fascination” with the Columbine High School shooting, a prosecutor said Monday.
Robert Bonelli, 24, is accused of wounding two people and sending shoppers scurrying for safety Sunday after shooting his way into the Hudson Valley Mall, then giving up when he ran out of ammunition.
Police searching the suspect’s room in nearby Saugerties that night found a cache of “Columbine memorabilia,” Ulster County District Attorney Donald Williams told The Associated Press.
The prosecutor would not detail what sort of items were found in the house Bonelli shares with his father, but said it included media accounts and other information about the Colorado shooting spree by two students that left 15 dead on April 20, 1999.
“We may never know specifically what his intentions were, or what his motivations were,” Williams said. “However, we are deeply disturbed and troubled by the recovery of Columbine memorabilia from his property.”
“Information is being gathered that would demonstrate that the defendant had a lurid fascination with the April 1999 shooting,” he said.
Bonelli, of nearby Saugerties, was being held without bail in the county jail after being arraigned overnight on first- and second-degree assault and reckless endangerment charges.
25-year term possible
If convicted, Bonelli could face 25 years in prison for the most serious charge, first-degree assault.
A woman answering the phone at Bonelli’s father’s house declined to comment. The public defender assigned to Bonelli did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
According to police, Bonelli opened fire walking into the Best Buy store in the mall, just outside Kingston, about 55 miles south of Albany. After firing several shots, he made his way into the mall corridor and continued shooting until running out of ammunition near the center court, witnesses said.
Thomas Haire, a 20-year National Guard member assigned to a recruiting booth in the mall, was in critical condition Monday at Albany Medical Center, authorities said. Police had said Sunday that Haire might lose his leg.
The second victim, Steven Silk, 56, was treated and released for hand and leg wounds from bullet fragments and shrapnel, police said. Two other people had bullet holes in their pant legs, State police Capt. Wayne Olson said.
“We consider it fortunate that more people were not struck,” Olson said. “Sunday afternoon in a crowded mall, it really has all the potential in the world to be a disaster.”
A mall worker, Keith Lazarchik, said Monday he made a “split-second decision” to follow the gunman.
“People were just running out of the stores, ducking behind anything they could find — screaming, kids were screaming, everybody running,” Lazarchik told ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
“I didn’t approach him right away,” he said. “I just followed him. I was creeping up behind him as he was walking down the mall shooting.”
A lunge for the gun
When the gunman ran out of ammunition and dropped his assault-type rifle, Lazarchik lunged for the gun and two of his co-workers tackled the gunman.
“He was standing there with his hands in the air and we just grabbed him and sat on him until police came,” said Phil Dudek, a co-worker of Lazarchik’s at Dick’s Sporting Goods.
Lazarchik said he did not know the gunman had run out of ammunition when he dropped his weapon. After the gunman was tackled and pinned, he said it was “over” and he had no other weapons, witnesses said.
“It’s shocking that it happened,” Ulster Town Supervisor Fred Wadnola said. “But I guess that’s the way our society is going today.”
Desmond Dutcher, who lives below the Bonellis, said he saw the suspect just hours before the shooting and he appeared “completely fine.” Dutcher described Bonelli as friendly but quiet.
“I know he’s upstairs a lot, doesn’t go out too much, doesn’t have a lot of friends,” Dutcher said.
The mall reopened at midday Monday with crisis counselors available for employees. Best Buy was expected to stay closed for a couple of days. Michael Bovalino, chief executive officer of the mall’s parent company, said security is constantly re-evaluated at the mall and will be again considering Sunday’s shooting.