COLLIERVILLE, Tenn. — A gunman opened fire inside a grocery store in Collierville, Tenn., on Thursday, killing one person and injuring at least 12 others as panicked employees and customers ran for safety, hiding in freezers and locked offices, the authorities said.
The authorities said they received a report of a shooting at 1:30 p.m. inside a Kroger store in a bustling commercial area of Collierville, about 30 miles east of Memphis, that is dotted with shopping centers and restaurants.
Officers soon flooded the store, going from aisle to aisle and room to room, helping injured victims and escorting employees out of hiding. One worker who was on the roof was brought to safety.
“They were doing what they had been trained to do — run, hide, fight,” Dale Lane, the Collierville police chief, said at a news conference. The training, he added, “saved people’s lives today.”
The gunman was found in the back of the store, and was believed to have been killed by a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Chief Lane said. The man’s vehicle was still in the parking lot, he said.
A spokeswoman for the town of Collierville, Jennifer Casey, said the gunman had been employed by a “third-party vendor of Kroger” but she declined to share the name of the vendor.
Chief Lane would not say what type of weapon the man had used, saying it was part of the investigation. He said the injuries to the victims were “very serious.”
The shooting was “the most horrific event that has occurred in Collierville history,” he said.
Forty-four employees were inside the store when the gunman began shooting, turning a typical afternoon of shopping and working into a scene of bloodshed and terror.
Brignetta Dickerson, who said she had worked at the Kroger for 32 years, told local reporters that she was at a cash register when she heard gunshots.
She said she ran with several co-workers and customers to the back of the store and into a receiving area for deliveries. But the gunman “came right behind us and started shooting and kept on shooting, shooting, shooting,” Ms. Dickerson told WREG-TV.
An employee was shot in the head and a customer was shot in the stomach, she said. The man who was shot in the head was in his 20s, and asked Ms. Dickerson to call his mother, she told WREG. Ms. Dickerson said she called but was unable to reach her.
“My only concern was my co-workers and my customers,” Ms. Dickerson said, adding that she told the people who were with her, “Just sit down and relax and you’ll be OK.”
Wes King posted on Facebook that his mother, Olivia King, had died in the shooting. She was shot in the chest and died at a hospital, he said, after CPR was unsuccessful.
“I apologize for the graphic details, but this type of crime needs to stop being glossed over and sanitized,” Mr. King wrote. “No one deserves this.”
A neighbor of Ms. King’s, Aahil Shermohammed, said he would never forget her smile.
“She was always checking up on me for no reason — and it was always nice when you’re having a bad day to have someone like that smile at you,” he said.
Regional One Health, a hospital in Memphis, received four patients in critical condition and five in “noncritical condition,” a spokeswoman said. Baptist Memorial Hospital in Collierville received one patient, who was discharged, and Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis received two, according to a spokeswoman.
Chief Lane said at an evening news conference that one victim was in surgery and one was in an intensive care unit.
Kroger said in a statement that it was “deeply saddened by the incident” and was cooperating with local law enforcement officials. The store will remain closed while the police investigation continues, the company said.
The shooting sent shock waves through Collierville, a suburb of about 51,000.
Local news stations showed a line of ambulances at the store with their lights flashing, as well as a group of employees gathered in the parking lot. Some stood in a circle, praying.
“Lives have been lost and there is no making sense of that,” said Deborah Suddarth, the senior pastor of Collierville United Methodist Church, a congregation just down the road from the store. “It is painful.”
She said the shooting happened at a moment when the community was already mourning people who had died of Covid-19. Her predecessor as senior pastor was killed by the virus several months ago.
The shooting also came about six months after a gunman opened fire inside a King Soopers grocery store, which is owned by Kroger, in Boulder, Colo. Ten people, including a police officer, were killed in that attack.
“No one in any part of Memphis or America should have to face violence at work or in their community,” Marc Perrone, the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which represents Kroger employees, said in a statement. “And we, as a nation, must do more to prevent these acts of violence.”
Laura Kebede contributed reporting from Collierville. Alyssa Lukpat, Neil Vigdor and Sophie Kasakove also contributed reporting.
Brignetta Dickerson knew the popping sound she heard on Thursday inside the Kroger grocery store where she worked was a gunshot, as she yelled at customers to “Go! Go! Go!”
As they ran to the back of the store in Collierville, Tenn., a Memphis suburb, the sounds followed, Ms. Dickerson told Region 8 News, a television station in the area.
“I heard him come to the back,” she said. “I was like, ‘Oh crap. Oh crap. Oh crap.’”
They watched, she said, as the gunman shot one of her co-workers in the head and a customer in the stomach. At least 13 people were injured, one fatally, in the shooting, and the police said the gunman had died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Glenda McDonald, who works in the store’s floral department, said she thought she saw the gunman fire at a bagger and some customers as she escaped the building.
“I just ran out the door,” Ms. McDonald told The Memphis Commercial Appeal. “I left my purse, my keys, everything.”
The chaos continued outside of the store as authorities responded to 911 calls.
“I have never seen so many police cars, in one place, in my life,” Bruce Pates, 73, said.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Pates had entered a tire shop across the street from Kroger. By the time he came out two hours later, there was a flurry of activity outside.
He watched as fire trucks and ambulances left the scene, only to be replaced seconds later with others. Rows of police cars filed into the parking lot.
Manny Reis, 49, was driving to Kroger when he saw a fleet of police cars rushing to the store. He ended up near the back of the building and saw someone who was injured.
“Somebody was sitting down without their shirt on,” he said. “The Fire Department showed up and basically grabbed that person and carried that person away.”
Although Ms. Dickerson is safe, she said she still felt numb.
“I’m OK, I’m OK,” she said. “I’ve been through everything, but this right here took the cake.”
Olivia King was a regular parishioner at Catholic Church of the Incarnation in Collierville, Tenn., attending a service there on Thursday morning only hours before she was killed in a mass shooting at a Kroger grocery store.
“Everyone needs to be more like Olivia,” said Maureen Fraser, the vice mayor of Collierville, who had been friends with Ms. King since they both moved to the town in the mid-1990s. “Kind, generous, caring, selfless.”
Ms. Fraser said that one Christmas season, Ms. King gave her family an envelope filled with money, knowing that Ms. Fraser’s husband was out of a job.
Ms. King’s husband died in 2005, Ms. Fraser said, and she had lived with one of her three sons and his children before they recently moved to Ohio.
“I cannot believe I am typing this,” that son, Wes King, wrote on Facebook on Thursday as he shared that the gunman had shot his mother in the chest.
Emergency responders attempted to use CPR on her to no avail, Mr. King wrote, and she died shortly after arriving at a hospital.
“I apologize for the graphic details, but this type of crime needs to stop being glossed over and sanitized,” her son wrote. “No one deserves this.”
Ms. King’s smile will never be forgotten, a neighbor, Aahil Shermohammed, said.
“She was always checking up on me for no reason,” he said, “and it was always nice when you’re having a bad day to have someone like that smile at you.”
Hospitals near a grocery store shooting in Collierville, Tenn., were already struggling to keep up with Covid-19 patients when those injured in the attack arrived in emergency rooms on Thursday.
National Guard troops had been stationed at medical centers to help cope with the influx of Covid-19 patients, and emergency medical providers had recently issued a dire warning to local officials about the strain on hospitals.
“Currently our system emergency departments are operating dangerously over capacity,” the medical providers wrote on Aug. 16. They added, “We may be unable to provide timely care to everyone and will have to make choices about delivering care to patients based on their probability of survival.”
They expressed particular concern about what could happen in the event of a disaster, given that “the city has no surge capacity to accommodate any additional disaster or unplanned events.”
An average of 96 percent of I.C.U. beds were occupied in Shelby County, Tenn., on Thursday, according to New York Times data. One nearby facility, St. Francis Hospital, reported that its I.C.U. was 100 percent full; another said its I.C.U. was 97 percent full. There were 15 I.C.U. beds available in the five counties in and around Memphis as of 5 p.m. Wednesday, according to the Shelby County Health Department.
Officials said at least a dozen people were hurt and one killed inside the Kroger store in Collierville, about 30 miles east of Memphis in Shelby County.
Regional One Health, a hospital in Memphis, had received nine patients injured in the shooting, according to a spokeswoman. She said the hospital had the capacity to accommodate those patients. Baptist Memorial Hospital in Collierville received one patient, who was discharged, and Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis received two, according to a spokeswoman.
Shelby County reported its highest number of Covid-19 cases during the pandemic last month. Those numbers have decreased slightly in recent weeks but remain high, with a seven-day average of 409 cases.
Only 44 percent of the state’s population has been fully vaccinated. Governor Bill Lee recently signed an executive order overruling attempts by local officials to require masks in schools. A federal judge blocked the governor’s order from taking effect in Shelby County on Friday after opponents fought it in court.
The shooting on Thursday in Collierville, Tenn., came six months after a man armed with a military-style semiautomatic rifle and a pistol opened fire in a King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, Colo., killing 10 people, including a police officer. King Soopers is owned by Kroger.
No motive has been publicly explained for that attack.
In October 2018, a white man shot two Black people at a Kroger store in Jeffersontown, Ky., in a racially motivated attack. The man, Gregory Bush, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole last year after pleading guilty but mentally ill to the murders of Vickie Lee Jones and Maurice E. Stallard.
In August, one person was killed and another person was injured in a shooting in the parking lot of Kroger in Sandy Springs, Ga., a northern suburb of Atlanta, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. The newspaper said that shooting had been the result of a botched drug deal.