Officer, shopper take down shooter in Omaha grocery store
Deputy Police Chief Scott Gray is always armed off duty, just in case. When a 21-year-old man walked into a grocery store with a gun, Gray was ready
Kevin Cole and Christopher Burbach
OMAHA — Deputy Omaha Police Chief Scott Gray stepped out from behind a Gatorade display and leveled his gun at the armed man who had fired shots at a west Omaha Hy-Vee supermarket.
Nearby, a shopper named Thomas Wenzl crouched behind a stack of bottled water.
Gray yelled at the shooter to drop his gun.
“Almost simultaneously, that’s when Tom jumped out and tackled the guy,” Gray said.
Gray joined the fray. He wrestled the shooter’s gun away. The unplanned, fast-thinking, quick action of a dynamic civilian and police officer duo thus ended an active shooter situation in a crowded supermarket without anyone being shot.
Police arrested the shooter, a 21-year-old Omaha man, on suspicion of firing a gun inside Hy-Vee, 17810 Welch Plaza, on Tuesday night. The young man, Jacob W. Muhle, suffers from severe depression, said his father, Richard Muhle.
The alleged shooter lives with his father a few blocks from the grocery store. The elder Muhle learned of the incident when he arrived home Tuesday night and police were at his house.
“I’m still trying to figure out why he did it,” Richard Muhle said Wednesday. “He’s got severe depression, and I think that he was trying to get someone to shoot him.”
“He’s always been a good boy and was never in drugs or anything like that, thank God,” the elder Muhle said. “He was always a kind of introverted kid and didn’t have too many friends.”
Jacob Muhle was booked into the Douglas County Jail after being arrested on suspicion of attempted felony assault, two counts of terroristic threats, two counts of shooting at an occupied vehicle, five counts of use of a weapon to commit a felony and destruction of property.
Authorities say Muhle fired at two cars in the pharmacy drive- thru about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Deputy Chief Gray happened to be shopping in the supermarket at the time. He was off duty and in street clothes.
“Just doing shopping like anybody else who was, you know, with everything else going on, was hoping to have a quick in-and-out visit to Hy-Vee,” he said.
Gray picked up some bagels for his sons. He made a pass down the cleaning products aisle just to see if there were any Clorox wipes. There were none. He headed to check out in the store’s liquor department. At the same time, unbeknownst to Gray, a man was walking toward the store, firing gunshots.
Carl Evans of Omaha was in line at the pharmacy drive-thru with his 20-year-old daughter, Kathryn, when they heard a gunshot. Evans saw Muhle walk by the passenger side of his 2019 Chevrolet Traverse LT and fire two shots, breaking the back passenger window and penetrating the rear door.
“It was very scary,” Evans said. “We were lucky he didn’t keep shooting. The fact that he didn’t shoot us made me think that he was just trying to wreak havoc. If he wanted to kill someone, we were right there.
Police said Muhle then shot out a window at the entrance of the store and headed inside, where he fired another shot at a monitor. Inside the store, people raced to the exits. That was at the other end of the supermarket from Gray. The first the deputy chief noticed something was wrong was when he approached the checkout counter, and the clerks just stared out the window toward the parking lot, not even acknowledging him.
One of the clerks said, “I think he’s shooting.” Gray set the bagels on the counter and hustled through the store toward the main entrances. Near the west entrance, Gray saw a man crouched behind bottled water.
“At the time, I didn’t know who the suspect was because I just heard the shots, and I hadn’t actually seen the suspect yet,” Gray said. “So I kind of came up behind that person and made sure they weren’t armed, and that ended up being Tom, the witness that ended up tackling the guy initially.”
Gray asked him where the shooter was. The shopper pointed to a young man dressed all in black. The man, later identified as Jacob Muhle, was walking between checkout aisles and grocery rows toward where Gray was crouched behind the Gatorade, assessing the situation. Gray didn’t want to get shot by the shooter, or by a police officer who might respond.
“He was just kind of casually walking,” Gray said. “He stood out to me because there were still people trying to flee the store. And he was just very casually and kind of emotionless in his demeanor. He was walking back towards us and looking down each row, each checkout aisle.”
The man held a gun at his side. Gray had his service weapon with him. As one of the first officers on scene at the Westroads Mall mass shooting in 2007, Gray goes armed when he’s off duty, just in case.
When the shooter came within about 10 yards of Gray, the deputy chief confronted him. He was not expecting the shopper to leap from behind the bottled water and take down the shooter.
“It did surprise me, because I was probably a fraction of a second from shooting the guy, to be honest with you,” Gray said. “I’m glad I hadn’t pulled the trigger right then, with Tom jumping out like that.”
The shooter fell to a sitting position. He put his gun to his head. Gray thought the man was going to shoot himself, but the man lowered the gun, Gray said. With his own gun in his right hand, Gray hit the shooter in the head with his gun to get him to let go, and eventually wrenched the shooter’s gun away with his left hand, breaking his own hand in the process.
Gray and the shopper kept the shooter pinned down. Omaha Police Lt. Dave Staskiewicz, also one of the Westroads Mall first responders, raced in to help. Staskiewicz was off duty and had come running after he heard the shots from his home a few blocks away, arrived and secured the shooter’s gun. A Douglas County sheriff’s deputy responding to a 911 call showed up, and they were able to handcuff the shooter.
Muhle was taken to Lakeside Hospital with minor injuries, police said. A woman who was hurt while trying to get out of the store also suffered minor injuries.
Police said Tuesday night that they don’t know what provoked Muhle. “Extremely unusual, one of the more challenging and frightening calls that comes to a community,” said Deputy Police Chief Ken Kanger. “We’re just extremely fortunate and grateful that there weren’t serious injuries here.”
Witness reports indicate that the shooter had been in the parking lot about 30 minutes, Kanger said, moving his car from stall to stall, before pulling out his weapon.
Muhle’s father said he wants to get his son help. “He apparently wasn’t targeting anybody,” Richard Muhle
Gray said the shooter didn’t say anything that revealed his motive or intentions. He said the only thing the shooter said in the struggle was to tell the shopper, “You ain’t no effing hero.”
Gray disagreed with that.
“With Tom jumping out like that, I mean, what he did was truly selfless and heroic,” Gray said. “You talk about a guy who has no weapon, it was just him, he’s just a guy that felt that something had to be done right then to stop this. The guy’s a hero in my mind, because he didn’t think about himself. He just went for it.”