SOUTHAVEN, Miss. —Two people are dead and two others injured following a shooting at the Walmart in Southaven, Mississippi early Tuesday morning.
The suspect was identified as Martez Abram, 39, a former employee at the Walmart. He is charged with two counts of murder, and more charges may follow when he is released from a hospital in Memphis, according to DeSoto County District Attorney John Champion.
"I do believe we have our man," Champion said.
Abram was suspended on Saturday and fired from his job Monday, according to a source close to the investigation. Champion said Abram had previously brought a knife into the Walmart and showed it to an employee, but said it was not pursued beyond police taking a report. He said Abram did not appear to have a previous criminal history.
Champion said officers found more weapons in the course of the investigation. The weapon used by Abram was purchased legally, he said.
A source confirmed that the suspect lived at the Southcrest Lake Apartments in Southaven. WREG went to that location and saw officers in the apartment. One neighbor said he had watched football with the suspect, who he knew as "Tez."
"It's scary. Especially being right next door," a another neighbor said. "I only talked to him in passing, like back and forth when he came home from work or whatever. He seemed real nice, real cool and quiet."
According to the Southaven Police Department, dispatch began receiving calls of an active shooter at the store located at 6811 Southcrest Boulevard around 6:30 a.m. Tuesday. Callers even said the alleged suspect had set fire to an interior part of the store.
When officers arrived six minutes later approximately 60 employees were still inside the building.
Officers began searching the store and the parking lot for the reported shooter. They eventually located him in the parking lot and that's when one of the responding officers was shot.
The bullet hit his bulletproof vest, saving him from a significant injury, police said.
At that point another officer opened fire on Abram, striking him twice. He was rushed to the Regional Medical Center where he underwent surgery.
Two Walmart employees were killed during the shooting. The DeSoto County coroner identified them as Brandon Gales, 38, of Hernando and Anthony Brown, 40, of Olive Branch.
Brandon Gales' father said his son leaves behind three children. He said his son grew up in Hernando, and was a department manager who'd worked at the Walmart for 15 or 16 years.
The incident sent employees running from the scene into a nearby parking lot a safe distance away. Some of them were gathered in a circle praying for those who had been injured or killed, while others were being interviewed by police.
Hours after the incident two of them were transported from the scene by ambulance. It's unclear if they were injured, overheated or in shock.
The Shelby County Bomb Squad was called in to clear the scene after a suspicious package was located at the Walmart. There also was a a fire inside the baby section of the store, Champion confirmed.
The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation was called in to handle the officer-involved shooting portion of the investigation while the Southaven Police Department will be handling the other criminal aspects of the case.
WREG's Melissa Moon spoke with several people who were inside the store at the time of the shooting, including customer Carlito Odom who was there to see his cousin.
"Just come see him every morning. By the time I was walking out the building all of the employees just ran past me and I just heard shooting, so I just ran with the crowd. I thought about it 'let me call my cousin.' He didn't answer about six or seven times."
His cousin did eventually call him back. Odom described that as a moment of "relief."
"I just went and talked to him so it made me feel a little better, but he's just shook up very badly. ... It's just a real crazy situation."
Another employee's family told WREG that she was in the parking lot and saw her boss get shot by the suspect. She claimed that the shooter then pointed the weapon towards her and told her she was going to be next. She was able to run from the suspect and hide.
Walmart President and CEO Greg Foran released a statement Tuesday morning saying "The entire Walmart family is heartbroken by the loss of two valued members of our team. We feel tragedies like this personally, and our hearts go out to the families of our two associates and the officer who was injured. We are relieved the suspect was apprehended, and we appreciate the quick response of the local authorities and our associates. We’ll continue to focus on assisting law enforcement in their investigation and on supporting our associates."
Champion estimated his office has handled 20 homicides in DeSoto County this year, more than all of 2018.
"This was a grievance between an employee and an employee," Southaven Mayor Darren Musselwhite said, adding that it was not something the city was concerned about becoming a trend.