Gov. Chris Christie said Tuesday that the shooting at a popular New Jersey mall, carried out by a young man who “came there to end his own life,” demonstrates the need to strengthen mental health treatment.
The gunman, identified by authorities as Richard Shoop, 20, fired six shots at the mall before taking his own life. Authorities found his body after 3 a.m. Tuesday at a section of the mall under construction.
No one else was injured — the six rounds hit an elevator, an escalator and several storefronts — but the governor stressed to reporters that the outcome could have been much worse.
“Obviously that young man came there to end his own life,” he said. “We may not be that lucky next time.”
Christie, up for re-election Tuesday, is a potential Republican presidential candidate for 2016. He spoke after casting his ballot, and chastised the Legislature for not having strengthened mental-health protections.
“We need to get at these root causes,” he said. “And it is not the sexiest thing in the world to talk about, to be more aggressive in the mental health area. Everybody likes to brandish guns and put them on tables and say we’re gonna ban this or ban that.”
He added: “What we really need to get to is, every one of these incidents involved a deeply disturbed person who was not getting treatment. We need to get to that. If we get to that, we have a better chance of preventing some of these incidents.”
Christie said that the gunman had left a note, “and I think came there to die from all indications.” Shoop’s brother, Kevin, told reporters Tuesday that his brother didn’t mean to hurt anyone, and that the shooting was an act of “self-indulgence.”
The gunman was wearing all black and a helmet when he walked the mall, Garden State Plaza in Paramus, N.J., one of the busiest in the United States, and began firing, authorities and witnesses said. Thousands of shoppers were in the mall, just before closing time Monday night, and hundreds of shoppers were locked into stores during the chaos.
Clarice Forbes, who works at a Talbots store, told NBC New York that she spotted the gunman and that he appeared to fire a rifle into the air.
“When we walked past our store, he looked directly in the store and strolled past. It was very, very terrifying,” she said. “There were so many thoughts going through my head. I was so scared.”
Chief Kenneth Ehrenberg of the Paramus police said that Shoop had stolen the weapon, a gun modified to look like an AK-47, from his brother. He used it to kill himself, said John Molinelli, the Bergen County prosecutor.
Molinelli said that Shoop had a drug history, but that there was no early indication why he carried out the shooting.
Law enforcement officers worked into the night to search the mall and get everyone out of the stores. The mall, which has more than 200 stores and 50 restaurants, will be closed Tuesday.
A senior law enforcement official told CNBC that the law enforcement response was “textbook,” including SWAT teams and police. Authorities do not know whether the weapon was concealed, the official said.
About 20 million shoppers visit the mall every year, according to its owner, Westfield Group. The stores cover 2.1 million square feet.
Last December, a masked gunman opened fire at a mall in Oregon and killed two people before taking his own life. Two months before that, a man killed his wife and two others at a mall in Wisconsin before killing himself.
Jen Maxfield of WNBC and Scott Cohn of CNBC contributed to this report. Reuters and The Associated Press also contributed.