A day after a man with a history of violence killed a woman at a busy Plymouth intersection, then died in an exchange of gunfire with officers at his apartment building, somber witnesses described both scenes as traumatic and terrifying.
At a Saturday afternoon news conference, Plymouth Police Chief Mike Goldstein said the suspect pursued and fatally shot the woman after she fled their car Friday night as horrified motorists looked on.
“Those will be images that will be hard to get past,” he said.
The man then retreated a couple of miles northwest to the Stoneleigh Apartments, also in Plymouth, where he and the woman had lived together, Goldstein said. After barreling into the parking garage, he crashed into parked vehicles, pointed a gun at fellow residents, and exchanged gunfire with three police officers, during which he was killed and two officers suffered minor wounds.
The names of the female victim and the suspect will be released by the Hennepin County medical examiner after autopsies, Goldstein said.
Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek, who appeared at the news conference with Goldstein, said the man had criminal convictions for violent offenses and was not legally in possession of the rifle, handgun, ammunition and “tactical vest” he was wearing.
Stanek, whose department has taken over the investigation, called the woman’s shooting a horrific act of domestic violence. “It was clear he meant to continue his rampage,” he said of the suspect.
For authorities, Stanek said, the incident served as a sobering example of the dangers associated with policing, coming just two days after a police officer in Fargo was shot and killed during a domestic-related call.
The series of events leading to the apartment shootout began when 911 callers reported that a woman had been pursued and shot at the intersection of Northwest Boulevard and Rockford Road after having fled or being pushed out of a dark SUV that had been weaving erratically through traffic there. Some callers thought she had also been run over.
Four minutes later, someone called 911 to report that a man had pointed “a long gun” at him at an apartment complex in the 5200 block of Annapolis Lane N.
Plymouth police officers went into the building to confront the gunman, and he was killed in the subsequent exchange of gunfire, according to Goldstein.
As of Saturday evening, it was not yet determined whether the gunman killed himself or was killed by police.
The police chief said during the confrontation, one officer was shot in the back but was spared grave injury by his bullet-resistant vest. He and a second officer whose injuries were not specified were taken to a hospital, where they were kept overnight. The third officer involved in the gunfire exchange was not injured.
All three officers have been placed on paid administrative leave, standard in such cases.
Goldstein thanked the more than 70 officers from multiple west metro police agencies who responded to the linked shootings late Friday. He also said that citizens traumatized by what they saw have been urged to talk to a police chaplain and other counselors who have been made available to them.
Terror on the roadway
Bill Schletzer, a Plymouth resident, was headed east on Rockford Road and stopped at a red light at Northwest Boulevard on the way home from the gym Friday night. A large SUV pulled up beside him in the left hand turn lane, he said, before making a wild maneuver to drive in front of all the stopped cars and up the right-hand shoulder.
That’s when Schletzer heard gunshots. More than a dozen rang out as the suspect began chasing a woman around the intersection in his vehicle, Schletzer said. At one point, the woman leaned over a stopped driver’s passenger window pleading for help, he said, but everyone was frozen in their cars or calling 911.
“You wouldn’t have wanted to get involved in this,” he said.
Without any assistance, the woman turned and ran in front of their cars to a patch of grass and snow off the road. The suspect continued shooting before running her down in the SUV at a high speed, Schletzer said. Then the man drove away.
“She just folded up like a rag doll,” he said. “This was the most violent and intense thing I’ve ever seen.”
Witnesses were left stunned in their cars, unable to move as they waited for police to arrive.
“There was no way this was random,” Schletzer said. “Had everyone in that intersection been armed with guns, they couldn’t have prevented what he did.”
A father pleads for his baby’s life
A woman who was among four apartment residents who encountered the suspect during a terrifying five minutes in the parking garage late Friday described what she saw.
Leah Grimes gave her account upon returning to the building Saturday afternoon after spending the night elsewhere.
The man drove recklessly into the parking garage as she parked her car and as a family of two parents and a baby unloaded groceries just after 9 p.m., Grimes said.
The driver’s window of the suspect’s vehicle was smashed, she said, and the driver appeared “nonsensical,” injured or intoxicated.
The couple “grabbed the baby literally right before he smashed into [their] car,” she said. “He wasn’t stopping, just slamming into [the family’s sedan] completely irrationally and erratically.”
The suspect got out wielding a gun, and the father tried to negotiate with him, Grimes said, pleading for the safety of his baby.
Grimes and the mother, who was holding the baby, hid behind parked cars and then ran toward a staircase in the opposite corner of the parking garage, racing up to the second floor.
Grimes said she glanced backward, detected that the suspect wasn’t chasing them and “felt safe” enough to bolt.
After they reached Grimes’ second-floor apartment, they heard about 15 shots being fired, Grimes said. They sounded like they came from the second-floor stairwell, she added.
Grimes called 911 to report an active shooter at 9:18 p.m. She and the family she was with were taken to the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office around midnight to talk to authorities about what they saw.
A grim Friday
As the drama unfolded, police and SWAT officers from several west metro law enforcement agencies swarmed to the two locations, just east and west of Interstate 494 in Plymouth. The gunman was said to have a black shotgun and multiple magazines.
Residents in the area were told to stay inside. No one in the building where the gunman died was hit by gunfire.
Just after 11 p.m., scanner reports said that the danger had been “neutralized” — that the shooter was dead in a stairwell of the apartment building. At the news conference, Goldstein declined to say where the gunman died, describing it only as “tight quarters.”
Residents of the apartment building where the gunman died eventually were told by police officers knocking on their doors that the danger was past, and those who had fled or were outside were escorted back to their apartments, he said.
At the scene of the initial confrontation, a body lay near the street late in the night as investigators worked, and broken glass was scattered over the road. Rockford Road reopened at 9:30 a.m. Saturday after being closed for investigators to comb the scene.
“Plymouth is a very safe community,” Goldstein said of the night’s bloodshed. “This was an atypical Friday night.”