ROYAL PALM BEACH — Three people, including a toddler, are dead following a shooting at a Publix Super Market in Royal Palm Beach shortly before noon on Thursday, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office said.
The agency didn’t immediately identify the man, woman and young boy who were found dead near the produce section of the store on Okeechobee and Royal Palm Beach boulevards. PBSO said the shooter took his own life
They also said the woman was related to the child, who would have turned 2 years old this month. However, they didn’t explain the relationship. PBSO spokeswoman Teri Barbera said it is possible the mother and child knew the man.
Juan Guardia said he was in the deli area when chaos erupted.
“I heard, ‘They’re shooting!’ A woman Publix worker said, ‘Run! Shooting!’ ” Guardia recalled. “I was scared. It’s sad because everything happened fast. Everyone was running. Some employees were crying.”
At a news conference, Barbera said detectives were speaking to witnesses and reviewing surveillance-camera video as they tried to determine what led to the shooting, which occurred at about 11:40 a.m.
Multiple patrol cars converged on The Crossroads shopping center to investigate the shooting. A PBSO helicopter hovered overhead. A Palm Beach County Fire Rescue vehicle also was at the scene.
In the wake of the shooting, most of the stores in the sprawling shopping center closed, officials said. It was not immediately clear when they would reopen.
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Onlookers outside the shopping plaza expressed shock at the deadly events that unfolded as lunchtime shoppers filled the store that recently announced it would close for renovations.
“This is a friendly Publix. I can’t believe this crazy thing happened,” said Tracy Greene, a regular at the shopping center.
“I’ve been here for 20 years, and I can’t believe this is happening,” said Tracey Cohron, a Royal Palm Beach resident who often shops at the Publix. “I know so many people who work there. I’m scared to death to find out who even got shot.”
Had she left her home six minutes earlier, Cohron said, she might have been inside the store when gunfire erupted. “This is insane,” she said. “I can’t believe this is really happening in my neighborhood.”
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Oahtee Moody, a Royal Palm Beach resident who lives across the street from the center, said the shooting was tragic sign of the times.
“This is not a Publix problem. This is a people problem,” Moody said. “I was born and raised here, and I never would expect this to happen.”
Publix officials at the chain’s headquarters in Lakeland said they were aware of the shooting, but referred questions to the sheriff’s office.
“Our thoughts are with those who are impacted by this tragedy,” a Publix spokesperson said in a statement. “We are cooperating with the local law enforcement.”
While a handful of Publix employees were allowed to leave the store, it appeared most workers and some customers were being kept inside to be interviewed by deputies. At about 2:30 p.m., some workers began leaving the store.
Law enforcement officials were checking license tags on cars in the parking lot. People were not being allowed to move their vehicles.
In a statement, County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, who represents the area, expressed sympathy for those who were killed, their families, those who witnessed the shootings and first-responders.
But, she said, the shooting underscores a societal problem that must be addressed.
Mourning is not enough, she said. “Tomorrow we must step up and engage in a very honest conversation about why this happened and what we can do specifically to prevent this violence,” McKinlay said. “Inaction is not an option.”
The shooting comes on the heels of a spate of mass killings across the country and days before Saturday’s 5-year anniversary of the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando that left 49 dead.
As of May 26, there had been 232 mass shootings in the United States this year, according to The National Violence Archive, a nonprofit research group. One took place inside a grocery store in Boulder, Colorado, where 10 died.
The organization defines a mass shooting as an event where four or more people are killed or injured, not counting the gunman.
Two of the deadly rampages were in South Florida. Twenty-two people were killed and 22 wounded at a concert in the Miami area on May 30. Three other people died in a shooting Sunday at a graduation party for Miami-Dade College students.
PBSO tweeted shortly after the incident: “Detectives are investigating a shooting that took place INSIDE Publix in RPB. Upon arrival deputies located three individuals deceased from gunshot wounds, one adult male, one adult female and one child. The shooter is one of the deceased. This was NOT an active shooter situation.”
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