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Police: Accused Kroger shooter tried to get inside black church 10 minutes before killings

The white man accused of gunning down two black customers at a Kentucky grocery store Wednesday tried minutes before the shooting to enter a predominantly black church, according to police officials. 

Jeffersontown Police Chief Sam Rogers on Thursday told reporters that Gregory Alan Bush Sr. tried to get into the First Baptist Church of Jeffersontown about 10 minutes before he opened fire at a nearby Kroger, killing Maurice Stallard, 69, and Vickie Lee Jones, 67, both of Louisville. 

Both victims suffered multiple gunshot wounds, Rogers said. Stallard, who the Louisville Courier-Journal reported was at Kroger buying poster board with his 12-year-old grandson, was shot inside the store. Jones was killed in the parking lot.

Witnesses and store surveillance video indicated Bush “pulled a pistol from his waistband and shot (Stallard) in the rear of the head and again multiple times as he was down on the floor,” an arrest warrant stated, according to WAVE3 in Louisville. “(He) then exited the Kroger store, being observed by witnesses re-holstering his weapon until he exited.”

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Stallard’s grandson, who witnessed his grandfather’s slaying, ran outside, where a bystander took him to his own car to shield him, WDRB reported. The boy called his mother from there to tell her his grandfather had been shot. 

The store’s surveillance video and additional witnesses indicated Bush drew his gun again in the parking lot, shooting Jones multiple times, WAVE3 reported.  

Jones, a retiree from the Veterans Affairs hospital, and Stallard, the father of Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer’s chief equity officer, Kellie Watson, were both described as warm and loving people, the Courier-Journal reported. Fischer on Thursday gave a call for local, state and federal officials to stop acting “helpless” against gun violence. 

“People are getting shot at a grocery store, a school, outside a church. Can’t we all agree that that is unacceptable?” Fischer said. “There are ways to make our country safer and still respect the rights of law-abiding gun owners. This idea that it’s all or nothing is a false choice. And Americans are dying every day because of it.”

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Bush is charged with two counts of murder and 10 counts of wanton endangerment, according to jail records. His bail has been set at $5 million. 

Rogers said Thursday that a tip from a city employee who saw Bush near the church right before the shooting led investigators to the church’s security cameras. The footage showed Bush trying to get inside. 

“He was unsuccessful in gaining access to the church,” Rogers said. 

WDRB in Louisville reported that a church member in the parking lot spotted Bush banging on the church doors and trying to open them. Church officials said the timing of Bush’s arrival was fortunate because he arrived after a midday church service had concluded. 

“Loss of life anywhere is pretty tragic, but just to think that an hour and a half earlier, we had 70 people in the church,” church administrator Billy Williams told the news station. “But by the time he came through, all doors were locked and there were probably eight or 10 (people) still in the building.”

‘Whites don’t shoot whites’

Rogers said 911 calls began coming in from Kroger at 2:54 p.m. Wednesday. The first officers arrived at the scene two minutes later, and by 2:58, Bush was in custody. He had fled the scene in his vehicle but was taken into custody on a road adjacent to the shopping center where the grocery store is located. 

Watch Thursday’s news conference on the Kroger shooting below, courtesy of WDRB.

“Once the scene was secure and the suspect was in custody, we had the daunting task of identifying and interviewing a multitude of witnesses,” Rogers said. 

One of the more than 120 witnesses who had to be interviewed was Ed Harrell, who told the Courier-Journal that he was waiting in the parking lot for his wife when he heard gunshots. 

He grabbed his own revolver and crouched down next to his car, the Courier-Journal reported. Harrell told the newspaper he saw the gunman walk “nonchalantly” through the parking lot, gun at his side. 

Harrell called out to him, asking him what was going on.

“Don’t shoot me. I won’t shoot you. Whites don’t shoot whites,” Bush said, according to Harrell

The shooting had not, as of Thursday’s news conference, been labeled a hate crime, but Rogers said Bush’s alleged comments to Harrell are being looked at. 

“We’re pursuing all avenues of the investigation, no matter where that takes us or what it involves,” Rogers said. “All crimes are investigated to the fullest extent by us. We are aware of that statement and are looking at any factors that (it) may come into play with.” 

When asked who would determine if the crime qualifies as a hate crime, Rogers deferred the question to the FBI, which is involved in the case.

A gun lies on the ground inside a police barricade following a shooting at a Kroger grocery store that left two black customers dead Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018, in Jeffersontown, Ky. Gregory Alan Bush Sr., who is white, is charged with two counts of murder and 10 counts of wanton endangerment in the shooting, after which an armed bystander exchanged gunfire with Bush in the parking lot. No one was injured and Bush fled, but was taken into custody nearby a few minutes later. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley/AP)

Investigators also spoke to a man who exchanged gunfire with Bush in the parking lot. No one was injured in the gunfight, during which Bush “began firing wildly at the civilian throughout the parking lot, endangering several pedestrian shoppers,” his arrest report stated, according to WAVE3.  

Rogers said Thursday that no charges were anticipated against the man, whose name has been withheld. 

“Based upon what we have seen on video, it appears that he just reacted to the threat that was in close proximity to him,” Rogers said. 

The chief said the motive for the fatal shooting remains unclear. 

“I don’t have any clue,” Rogers said. 

A history of violence and mental illness 

Rogers said investigators are trying to determine if Bush, who lived with his elderly parents, was legally allowed to own firearms. 

WDRB reported that Bush has a criminal and mental health history stretching back into the 1990s and, on multiple occasions, judges ordered him to give up his weapons. A domestic violence conviction in 2009 means that he cannot legally own a firearm, the news station reported. 

Court records obtained by the news station show that Bush was accused in 2009 of punching his 78-year-old father and picking his 74-year-old mother up by the neck. 

He also unplugged the phone so the couple could not call for help, the records show.

“Both victims are terrified of (Bush’s) unpredictable behavior,” an officer wrote in a report

Bush’s parents told officers he padlocked their doors and once, when his cellphone would not work, he shot the phone, WDRB reported. Bush’s then-10-year-old son was present. 

Records show that Bush was hospitalized at least twice due to his mental health, including for a 2000 suicide attempt, the news station said. His wife, from whom he was divorced that year, at one point told authorities he’d been diagnosed as “paranoid” and was prescribed medication, but stopped taking it. 

The court records indicate Bush repeatedly used the N-word and other expletives to refer to his wife, WDRB said. Her race was not revealed. 

Following the cellphone incident in 2009, a judge ordered Bush to take his medication and get mental health treatment, WDRB reported. That same year, his father said his son got angry and said, “Tonight might be black death.”

The context of that remark was not made clear in the records, the news station said

The “About Gregory” section of a Facebook page belonging to Bush states he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. 

“I have worked most of my life and battled mental illness throughout my life,” the description states. “My paranoid schizophrenia finally stopped me from working and now am on mental disability. I’m lucky I made it this far with all the trouble I’ve caused myself when I get off my medicine.”

Bush wrote that he was lucky his parents are in good health because it took two years to get his disability approved. 

“Maybe one day I can work again,” he wrote. “I’m hoping for the best.”

Bush’s Facebook posts are largely unremarkable, but in August 2017 he signed a Change.org petition asking Kentucky’s governor to save the state’s Civil War monuments. 

A tweet written in June by someone with the Twitter handle @GregoryAlanBush said there were people who wanted him dead.

“They high jack (sic) my frequency and tell lies about me,” the owner of the account wrote.

The tweet included the hashtag #LongLiveThePersecuted.

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