YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: The body of 20-year-old Teaneck man wanted in a shooting that trapped customers and workers for hours at the Garden State Plaza in Paramus last night was found with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head — and the gun across his chest — in a remote area of the mall around 3:20 a.m., Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli told CLIFFVIEW PILOT this morning.
Richard Shoop, a 5-foot-10-inch former pizza deliveryman who had a small online modeling portfolio and abused Ecstasy in its purest form, left behind a note at his parents’ home that “suggested that something was going to happen — that he was either going to be arrested and go to jail or die,” Molinelli said.
It was part of a spiral that had grown gravely serious, he said.
His 23-year-old brother had become so concerned that he and his girlfriend went out looking for Shoop last night. When they heard a radio report about the shooting, they headed to the mall, where they spoke with officers they knew from Washington Township, the prosecutor said.
“They thought for sure it was him in there,” Molinelli told CLIFFVIEW PILOT in an interview following a predawn news conference at the mall.
Shoop entered the Garden State Plaza just before 9:20 last night with the intention of dying, either by his own hand or through “suicide by cop,” Molinelli said. He was carrying a loaded Zastava Serbia rifle that the prosecutor said bears a remarkable resemblance to the AK-47 (see below).
Witnesses told investigators that Shoop — wearing a black leather jacket and pants, a backpack and a motorcycle helmet with the visor open — fired shots into the ceiling on the second level of the mall’s Nordstrom wing.
Although he had the chance to shoot others, he deliberately didn’t, the prosecutor said. Instead, his bullets hit an escalator and elevator, among other objects.
Six rounds in all were believed discharged, Molinelli said.
CLIFFVIEW PILOT was the first to report the discovery of Shoop’s body just after 3:30 a.m.
An FBI SWAT negotiated a “maze of corridors” before finding it behind a construction area far from the scene of the shooting, the prosecutor said.
“We searched all 2 million square feet of the mall, starting where we were,” he said. “He was found so deep in the back of the mall that it took that long to get there.”
Schoop was wearing the dark jacket, pants and sneakers that witnesses described. The rifle was across his body, and his helmet and backpack were nearby, the prosecutor said. The backpack was taken by the Bergen County Sheriff’s Bureau of Criminal Identification.
“We couldn’t be sure of what was inside,” Molinelli explained.
“You always hope something like this never happens,” the prosecutor told CLIFFVIEW PILOT. “But you also hope that if it does, you get the kind of response that we did.”
A massive response included hundreds of officers from the New Jersey State Police, the Bergen County Police, the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office, dozens of local agencies — even the Palisades Interstate Parkway Police — as well as The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey emergency response team, New Jersey Transit Police’s Emergency Services team and the Passaic County Sheriff’s Department, among others.
Agents from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security were also on scene.
An unmarked police car crashed into a divider during the early rush. No serious injuries were immediately reported.
The Star-Ledger reported on Nj.com that a “swarm of law enforcement officers, including New Jersey State Police,” raided the Shoop family’s Emerson Avenue residence in Teaneck shortly before 1 a.m.
“A mix of officers in tactical uniforms and plain clothes — all with guns drawn — moved through the neighborhood and knocked on the door,” the site says. “A man holding a screwdriver answered the door and the law enforcement officers screamed: ‘Drop it! Drop it!’
“The man fell to his knees outside the house and dropped the screwdriver. He said his wife and dog were still inside.”
Authorities had already been questioning Shoop’s brother when the tactical team hit the neighborhood, multiple sources confirmed.
Several houses were hit by the unit, Molinelli said.
“We were operating under the assumption that it was him, but you never know for sure until you find him,” the prosecutor said. “We couldn’t be sure he wasn’t hiding somewhere, laying in wait.
“It made for some very tense moments.”
The incident came hours before the midnight release of “Call of Duty: Ghost,” the latest version of the intensely popular first-person shooter game. GameStop, which planned a special 12 a.m. event, has a store on the opposite side of the mall from Nordstrom.
Authorities at first said they believed that Shoop left through Nordstrom after the shooting. However, they were being cautious in holding people back while they investigated — with one official saying they suspected the gunman might still be on the grounds.
Although several people were escorted to safety in a fire drill-styled evacuation, hundreds more apparently remained inside as 1 a.m. neared.
Others were being interviewed at a command post.
A staging area was set up for those picking up friends and loved ones at the mall, which had been on lockdown past 12:30 a.m.
Scores of local, state and county officers, along with federal agents, were “released” from their positions beginning around 3:30, shortly after Shoop’s body was discovered.
The mall will be closed today, owners Westfield Group LLC said last night.