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Shooting at Kroger won’t stop customers

December 21, 2018

Customers at a Kroger store where a man was critically injured in a shooting Wednesday night said Thursday they were undeterred from shopping at the north-side Fort Wayne supermarket.

Several said violent crime can occur at any place at any time, and the only precaution is to be aware of your surroundings when in public.

“It happens everywhere,” said Doris Benhower, 78, of Fort Wayne, while loading her car with Christmas groceries. “I had my purse stolen at Meijer. I was putting groceries away, and the lady asked if she could help me and walked off with my purse.”

Grandmother Linda Richardson of Fort Wayne called the North Clinton Street supermarket “my store” and said she wouldn’t stop shopping there. 

“I come here all the time. It’s a scary thought,” said Richardson, who is retired. “It can happen to you no matter where you go. It just seems a way of life anymore. It’s especially bad now, and I don’t know what is wrong with people.”

Because she often goes out with her grandson, she’s developed a habit of looking for exits and making sure he stays close. 

“I just tell everyone to be safe, be careful,” she said.

On Thursday morning, police identified the victim as James Michael Walker Jr., 46, of Fort Wayne. He remained in critical condition, police said.

They issued no information about a suspect but reviewed security camera footage Wednesday night to get a description and establish the timeline. The shooting occurred about 6:30 p.m.

The victim was found at the rear of the store after witnesses reported hearing more than one gunshot, police said. Witnesses told The Journal Gazette workers and customers sought shelter and fled the building wherever they could.

James Sims of Fort Wayne, at the store Thursday morning, said he and his two daughters, 8 and  9, narrowly missed the shooting.

He said he was driving them home about 6 p.m. and was going to stop for cereal and milk for breakfast. But the girls pointed out they could use a fast-food gift card instead.

“That’s the only reason I missed it,” he said. “It’s not safe to go anywhere. You’ve got to be aware of your surroundings wherever you go. It’s not just here in Fort Wayne.”

Sims said he wasn’t sure what he would have done if he heard shots while shopping. He said he’d probably gather up the children and run in the opposite direction.

He wondered if it wasn’t time for the Kroger to have a police officer stationed at the front of the store, as he’s seen in another neighborhood. 

The shooting is the second in or near a north-side Kroger in less than six weeks. On Nov. 12, one man died and another was left in critical condition after a shooting in the parking lot of the Kroger on West State Boulevard.

Kroger spokesman Eric Halvorson said in an email Thursday that the company does not comment on security measures.

“I understand the interest in security, but : for obvious reasons : we don’t discuss our program in public,” he said.

“I can tell you Kroger invests considerable resources to safeguard our stores. The safety of our associates and our customers is always a priority.”

In a statement Wednesday night, the company expressed gratitude to customers, including a nurse, who helped after the shooting.

Both the assistant manager and the police acted quickly, the statement said. It added Kroger is cooperating with the investigation.

The store reopened at 6 a.m. Thursday.

Kroger stores in other areas also have been the scene of shootings in recent months. An Oct. 24 shooting that killed two black grandparents in Jeffersontown, Kentucky, a Louisville suburb, was deemed a hate crime.

Other shootings were reported in or near Kroger stores in Nashville, Cincinnati and DeKalb County, Georgia.

Fort Wayne detectives said Wednesday’s shooting was “an isolated incident and not a random act of violence,” meaning the victim likely was known to the shooter and targeted.

A witness told The Journal Gazette on Wednesday night that a man about 6-foot-3 in his mid- to late 20s had confronted a shorter, older man. Both wore gray hooded sweatshirts, the witness said. 

The shooter shot the victim twice, according to the witness. Police said the shooter fled the store but did not detail whether he was in a vehicle or on foot, nor the direction of travel.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Fort Wayne Police Detective Bureau at 427-1201 or Crime Stoppers at 436-7867.

rsalter@jg.net

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