INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Deputies fatally wounded a 43-year-old man after he fired shots at an officer following a shooting, carjacking and shoplifting at Vero Walmart parking lot.
The name of the suspect, described by authorities as a “known gang member,” was not released. The man shot another man and woman during the carjacking, Indian River County sheriff’s spokesman Maj. Eric Flowers said.
“He put everybody in danger. He was a very bad man who shot two innocent people,” Flowers said. “The deputies (involved) are heroes for putting their lives on the line.”
The injured man and woman were taken by ambulance to Lawnwood Regional Medical Center & Heart Institute in Fort Pierce with serious, but non-life threatening injuries, Flowers said. Two deputies who fired at the suspect were placed on paid administrative leave, which is standard for police-involved shootings.
It was unclear if the sheriff’s office planned to release the names of the deputies.
— Nicholas Samuel (@JournalistNickS) June 10, 2020
Several Indian River County sheriff’s patrol vehicles, including two crime scene vans, were at the parking lot combing for evidence. Yellow crime scene tape roped off a large portion of the parking lot, leaving store patrons waiting in front of Walmart.
Detectives placed yellow evidence markers in different areas inside the lot.
Deputies eventually let customers back to their vehicles to leave. A sheriff’s helicopter could be heard circling above.
Deputies shut down State Road 60 in both directions from 43rd Avenue to about 58th Avenue. It was unclear when the roadway would reopen.
— Nicholas Samuel (@JournalistNickS) June 9, 2020
The incident unfolded about 6 p.m. when deputies responded to reports of a man shoplifting at Walmart, located off of State Road 60, Flowers said. It was unclear if the man arrived at the store in a vehicle or on foot.
Details on what item or items were stolen were not available.
A loss prevention officer followed the man into the parking lot. The man, who officials described as aggressive, began fighting with a deputy who tried to detain him, Flowers said.
The deputy deployed his Taser, but the prongs did not touch the man, Flowers said. The man then pulled out a semi-automatic handgun and fired at the deputy, but missed.
The man then ran up to a grey Honda Civic, containing a family of six from South Florida, and tried to carjack the vehicle. When the man couldn’t get in, he shot at the car, striking a man and woman inside, Flowers said.
Another deputy shot at the man several times, but missed, Flowers said.
The family in the Honda fled down State Road 60, stopped in front of Murphy’s Express gas station and flagged down authorities. First responders treated the victims before taking them to the hospital, Flowers said.
The man, still in the parking lot, then looked for a second vehicle to carjack. Flowers said the man pointed his firearm at a woman and told her to get out of her silver Sedan.
The man stole the Sedan and drove the vehicle down an access road that runs past several businesses, including the Auto Zone parking lot. When the man reached a dead end at Auto Zone, he opened the driver door, put his gun over his shoulder and fired several times at a deputy who was tracking him, Flowers said.
The deputy fired several times through his own windshield and struck the man, killing him, Flowers said. The shooting left several bullet holes on the driver’s side of the Sedan.
Deputies recovered the man’s weapon, Flowers said.
The man was wanted out of Virginia on burglary charges; it was unclear if he had any connections to Indian River County or how long he had been in the area.
Shots fired through the front window of the deputy’s vehicle. Deputy fired multiple times before being able to exit his vehicle. pic.twitter.com/zJbUlFrT7F
— IRCSheriff (@IRCSheriff) June 10, 2020
Flowers said deputies will be at the scene overnight processing evidence. It was unclear if surveillance footage of the incident would be released.
Walmart patrons react
Several Walmart patrons voiced their opinions on the shooting before deputies allowed them to leave to go home.
Customer Bethaney Green, 18, of North Carolina, said she heard gunshots, but didn’t see the actual incident. Her car was located behind a crime scene van as deputies searched for evidence.
“I’m on vacation. I came down to visit my family and went to Walmart to kill some time,” Green said. “The cops told us to just wait.”
Customers Raffaela Liuzzo-Mazzocchi and Lazaro Hernandez said they moved to Vero Beach from West Palm Beach four days ago. The husband and wife, who were waiting for at least an hour, said they understand deputies had to close the parking lot to investigate.
“Officers have to do their job,” said Liuzzo-Mazzocchi, in her 40’s. “We want to cooperate, but at the same time we want to go home.”
Annecia Taylor, 20, of St. Lucie County, said she had just got off work and came to the store to pick up some items. Taylor said she was only in Walmart for five minutes, walked out and saw the parking lot marked with crime scene tape.
MaryAnne Bannon, of Vero Beach, stood by her shopping cart containing a bag of mulch as she watched deputies canvass the parking lot. Bannon shopped for 30 minutes before leaving.
“When I came out, I saw the crime scene tape,” Bannon said.
Photos by Nick Samuel
This story will be updated.