COLLIERVILLE, Tennessee – A gunman opened fire at a suburban supermarket, and employees and customers immediately sought shelter, barricading themselves in freezers and behind pallets of merchandise. The police stormed in, using lessons still fresh from June’s training. Firefighters followed suit, shielding themselves from ballistic equipment their service purchased three years ago in anticipation of a moment like this.
“We wanted to prepare,” Buddy Billings, the Collierville, Tenn. Fire chief, told reporters on Friday a day after one person was killed and 14 others were injured in the shooting inside. a Kroger store, by a gunman who authorities say then committed suicide.
The aftermath of the shooting some 30 miles from Memphis highlighted a grim reality: The gunfire interrupting the rhythms of daily American life became far less shocking as the country faced recurring bloodshed in schools, workplaces and churches.
It was the threat of such a shooting that prompted officials in Collierville, an otherwise quiet town of over 50,000 people and regularly ranked among the safest in Tennessee, to regularly train officers and build a cache of ” protective equipment for firefighters.
“We hope they don’t happen,” Collierville Police Department Chief Dale Lane said of the mass shootings at a press conference Friday. “But hope is not a plan.”
In recent years, security experts said, the notion of preparedness has shifted beyond focusing on law enforcement and rescue workers to highlighting how civilians, businesses, schools and religious communities may be ready for a shootout.
The Shelby County Readiness Office, which includes Memphis and Collierville, offers a training program that has held sessions with schools, churches, museums and more, with requests often spiking in the aftermath of a shooting massive. The training centers around a simple mantra Chief Lane repeated on Friday: “Run, hide, fight.
“What we’re starting to see more and more are communities recognizing that this will potentially happen to them,” said Kathryn Floyd, national security expert at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. “In the past, we had communities that thought this could never happen here, but unfortunately the increase in the severity, lethality and frequency of such events has really changed that narrative.
Education programs on how to respond to an active shooter have become much more common nationwide. Over the past decade, experts said, there has been an increase in training, which has become increasingly formalized, with the first national active shooter response standard approved in 2017.
“Hospitals have made a number of them,” said Richard Serino, a disaster preparedness expert at Harvard University. “Companies have hired contractors to help them get training so employees know what to do to save their own lives, save other lives. “
It was not clear whether Kroger’s employees in Collierville had taken training, and the company did not respond to a message inquiring about its protocols. Still, some of them have been praised for their efforts in the midst of the chaos. “We are learning from truly heroic acts that included associates, clients and first responders selflessly helping to protect and save others,” Kroger said in a statement Friday.
People inside the store used any crevices or obstacles they could find as a hiding place or barrier to protect themselves from the shooter. An employee fled to the roof. It is not known how long the attack lasted, nor the path taken by the attacker inside the store. “It was over in a matter of minutes,” said Chief Lane.
A total of 10 workers and five customers were shot dead. A woman, a client identified by family and authorities as Olivia King, was killed. Fourteen others were hospitalized with gunshot wounds; their conditions stabilized on Friday, authorities said. “We didn’t lose anyone overnight,” said Chief Lane. But, he added, “there are still people fighting. “
Investigators are still trying to determine the motivation for the attack, but authorities said the shooter, identified as Uk Thang, 29, worked at the Kroger store, which was employed by a third-party supplier.
Police raided his home Thursday night and were examining the seized evidence, including his personal electronics. Officials declined to identify the type of weapon used in the attack. Chief Lane said it appeared the gunman had shot himself to death as officers stormed the store minutes after the first reports of the shooting, which occurred around 1:30 p.m. Thursday.
The store is located in a busy area full of shopping malls, where restaurants and retail stores were busy again on Friday. Collierville has grown rapidly in recent years, attracting residents to subdivisions of spacious brick homes.
Still, there were indications that the shooting had deeply shaken the community. While officials described the many steps they took to prepare to respond to a shooting like this, they recognized the pain of having to put this training to good use. “It tears my soul apart,” said Chief Billings.
In the hours following the shooting, which Chief Lane called “the most gruesome event in the history of Collierville,” a group of pastors hastily held a small prayer vigil in a church down the street from the store. They offered intercessions for the community grappling with the shooting, and in particular for the people who were in the store and were injured or traumatized.
“We lift them up to You, Lord,” said Reverend Mark Wright, pastor of the Collierville Presbyterian Church. “We breed all the good people who work at Kroger. An ordinary day has turned into something else.