Thursday morning Dee Stemm was pushing snow to the sides of her driveway, trying to stay ahead of the heavy snowfall that was blanketing the Cobblestone subdivision.
While working, she did not have to worry about the usual heavy traffic coming out of the Martin’s Supermarket parking lot a few yards from the end of her driveway. The lot was barricaded and the store was surrounded with hundreds of yards of yellow plastic police tape.
On Wednesday night Shawn W. Bair, 22, had murdered a 20-year-old store employee Krystle Dikes and customer Rachelle Godfread, 44, in the grocery and seemed to be preparing to kill the store’s manager when two Elkhart police officers interrupted that execution, then shot him to death.
“He doesn’t look like a happy person,” Stemm said as she was shown Bair’s photo to see if she recognized him from the neighborhood.
From early accounts police gave at a press conference and from information gleaned from his Facebook page and criminal record, Bair indeed was troubled. (See related stories.)
Indiana State Police Sgt. Trent Smith walked reporters through the shootings step by step during a press conference Thursday morning.
Police believe Bair walked to the store, like he often did. Smith said Bair entered the store at 3900 East Bristol St. in the city’s far northeast corner, at 9:30 p.m. and then walked around it continuously for a half hour. An unarmed security guard was watching him at that time, according to Smith.
“He was watching him just because of the fact he knew him and he was walking around and not buying anything,” Smith Said. “And there just wasn’t that many people in the store at that time of night.”
Smith said security video shows Bair acted as if he was texting on his cell phone and also talking on it. But Smith is not sure if he was actually using the phone or just pretending to do so as there was no audio on the video.
“At 10:05 p.m. things started to change,” Smith said.
That is when Blair pulled a .40 caliber handgun from beneath his jacket and began his murderous violence. He first shot Dikes, who was stocking merchandise.
“Mr. Bair shot the female subject and then we believe in the next minute or so he walked around and saw another Martin’s employee and made some verbal exchanges,” Smith said. “She ran. Thankfully he fired at her and missed. She was able to escape out of the store.”
These shootings occurred at the west end of the store, according to Smith. Bair then moved toward the east side of the store and went several aisles down.
Bair then walked about 10 to 12 aisles from there and shot Godfread.
Smith said there were about 15 people in the store at the time, including the shooter, and within seconds of hearing the gunshots, they began to flee or hide.
“People at first they acted as if they didn’t know what was going on,” Smith said. “But within a few seconds had an idea that something was wrong and you start to see people exit the store at a rapid pace.”
Bair then walked back to the west end of the store and shot his second victim multiple times.
Then he walked down the aisle and turned the corner.
“There he was confronted by the manager of the store,” Smith said. “The manager was one of the last people left in the store. It was apparent to me that he was trying to figure out what was going on. ... Unfortunately as he walked around the corner the gunman pointed his gun right at his face.”
“They came face to face.
“Over the next two minutes, which would have been approximately 10:08 to 10:10 Mr. Bair held the manager of the store hostage,” Smith continued. “He asked him to go to his knees. You can see the manager there in a praying position. We couldn’t hear the audio but it appeared that in the position he was in you could see the gunman waiving a gun around and shouting at him in what appeared to be taunting at times.”
It was then that two police officers arrived and Bair’s attention was diverted from the manager. Bair also ran. Smith said both men ran north down parallel aisles.
“Thankfully the manager escaped,” Smith said.
Bair then stopped at the north end of the store and did something to his gun, but it is not clear on the video what that was.
“He also brandished a long hunting knife and his gun and walked around a long endcap at the store and walked down another aisle,” Smith said. “As they entered the last aisle where the suspect was, they entered withing 10 to 15 feet of each other, is my best guess,” Smith said. “And it was at that time that shots were fired with the Elkhart City Police Department and the suspect was killed.”
Smith said Bair did not shoot at police.
The two police officers arrived at the store just three minutes after their department received a 911 call about the shootings. Smith said the officers were nearby on another call and when they arrived at Martin’s they immediately entered the store and Blair saw them and left the manager and ran.
Smith said the officers worked quickly and professionally, “clearing” each aisle as they moved toward the suspect.
The officers then checked the store aisle by aisle, taking about one minute to find Blair and shoot him.
Smith said the Elkhart officers risked their lives to save customers and employees still in the store.
“There is no doubt in my mind that two things happened (that) night,” he said. “The bravery and quick response from the Elkhart Police Department saved lives. There’s no doubt. There’s no doubt in my mind that a couple of employees who worked for Martin’s Supermarket, that waited to get out of the store, to help people get out of the store, to kind of corral them and get them out of the store.
“So there are good stories that come out of bad stories.”
Police are still working on finding a motive in the murders. Smith said at first officers thought there was no connection between the gunman and the victims.
“Things have swung back and forth,” he said in reference to a possible connection. “At first as I reported, we didn’t think there was any connection, between the shooters and one of the female victim. However other information has come in from other parts of the state that might not be true, there might be some type of relationship. At this point it is still early in the investigation and we have yet to make a final determination if there really was a relationship between the shooter and the female subjects.”
And why he shot who he did when he did is part of the probe.
“He took his time,” Smith said of the Bair. “He might have been hesitant. But he was at the store. If he was watching people or picking out people we may never know.”
Bair’s parents found out their son was dead when police served a search warrant at his home. Police did not release his address.
“It’s like every parent,” Smith said of the notification. “You don’t ever want to think it’s your child involved in something like that. There’s the initial shock of someone knocking on your door and telling you your son is dead. How would you feel?”
He said when police told the parents of their son’s death, they were not given details of what happened.
Bair’s Facebook page entries reveal a young man with dark thoughts. He wrote he was looking forward to torturing people when they got to his spot in Hell. Yet, Smith said he could not comment on the possibility that Bair was mentally ill.
Contacted by The Goshen News, Bair’s father, Norman, said he would consider talking about his son in the future.
When police searched Bair’s home, where he lived with his parents near the Martin’s store, Smith said they did not discover much.
“I would not say it was well planned,” Smith said of the murders. “But it was thought out.”
Smith said State Police are investigating the shootings, even though they occurred within the city limits of Elkhart.
“Since it included two of their police officers and their officers were involved in the shooting, it is their protocol to call an outside agency,” Smith said.
He said it may take up to two weeks for detectives to piece together Bair’s actions before the shooting, how he obtained a handgun and what motivated him to commit murder.
Autopsies on the victims and Bair were scheduled to be performed Wednesday afternoon.
Smith was able to watch the crime unfold as it was recorded on the many video cameras in the store. The cameras are motion-sensitive, Smith said, and activate when someone enters there coverage area. But some of the events during the rampage were not covered.
Asked what he saw occur, Smith gave a factual account of the horror.
“We saw confusion.
“We saw people running.
“We saw people hiding.
“We saw people peeking around the corner,” Smith said.
He said some people appeared stunned by the noise of the gunshots and didn’t know what they were.
“Other than police officers, about 90 percent of people have not heard a gunshot,” Smith said. “So would you know what a gunshot echo wold sound like in a store like that. I think it caught people by surprise and they don’t know if something exploded or what. So sometimes it takes a visual and even after the see it it takes a few more seconds for them to decide what they need to do.”
Stemm said she shops at the Martin’s a few yards from her home every day.
“Everyone is just so friendly over there,” she said.
She shook her head, sending snow falling from her coat’s hood.
“They have to be mentally ill to get to that point,” she said of people who turn to violence. “If they respected themselves and had more love in their heart, they wouldn’t do these kind of things.”
And she was thinking about the manager who escaped death.
“That was a blessing for him (the arrival of police). That would be so scary.”
Business was slow Wednesday at stores in the Cobblestone Plaza, a strip mall next to Martin’s.
“It’s terrible, terrible, terrible,” said Lorie Freeland, as she worked on a customer’s hair at her Fringe Salon.
Like many in the plaza, she and her employees eat lunch at Martin’s deli often.
“I have had a couple of clients in today who live at Cobblestone,” she said, “and they are really shaken up — just in general about the state of the world today.”