UPDATED at 11:15 a.m. with updated description of killer
ST. LOUIS COUNTY • A 53-year-old House Springs woman was shot and killed by a gunman at a Catholic Supply store in a strip mall on Manchester Road on Monday afternoon, police said.
They identified her Tuesday morning as Jamie Schmidt, a customer at the store, where the gunman sexually assaulted at least one person before opening fire and then disappearing.
Tuesday morning police released a detailed description of the attacker, saying he was a white man, about 40 to 50 years old, and 5 feet 7 inches to 5 feet 9 inches tall. He was wearing a black or gray "paperboy-style" cap, a navy blue Carhartt-style jacket, a red, white and black plaid shirt, glasses, a brown belt with a a red and blue square on the buckle.
The shooting was reported to police at 3:19 p.m., and police shut down the shopping center and launched a manhunt that lasted into the night.
At a news conference a few hours after the shooting, a police spokesman said investigators had “no idea” of a motive and that the man did not appear to know the victims. St. Louis County police Sgt. Shawn McGuire encouraged anyone with information or who saw anything suspicious to call police.
“We have a loose, armed gunman out there who’s already shot one person,” McGuire said.
McGuire said the woman was critically injured in the shooting and taken to a hospital. In a later briefing, McGuire said that she had died.
He released no other information about her, including whether she worked at the store.
Witnesses described the attacker to police as a white man, about 5 feet 7 inches with a heavy build and age 40 to 50. He was wearing a black jacket and blue jeans with a large belt. He was wearing a black or gray hat. Police were searching the area for the gunman.
Police urged anyone with information about the man or the shooting to call the St. Louis County Police Department at 636-529-8210 or CrimeStoppers at 1-866-371-8477.
“We need people to send us information,” McGuire said. “You’re not wasting our time.”
He emphasized the brazenness of the shooting. “I think everyone needs to be aware this happened at 3:30 in the afternoon on one of the busiest roads in St. Louis County,” he said.
McGuire said police had been called by someone in the store. It was unclear whether security cameras caught the attacker at any point. Asked whether the crime had been caught on video, McGuire said there was none to release.
At the shopping plaza, no video surveillance cameras were visible on the exterior of many of the businesses.
Police shut down most of the shopping plaza, in an unincorporated area of West County near Queeny Park, on the north side of Manchester Road between Interstate 270 and Highway 141. McGuire said officers searched the area and weren’t sure if the man left on foot or in a vehicle.
Dan Stutte, Catholic Supply’s president, said in a statement Monday night: “We are shocked and saddened by the events that occurred at our West County location Monday afternoon. This was a senseless tragedy. Please join us as we pray for the victims and their families.”
When the death of the shooting victim was announced, the archdiocese tweeted: “Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her.” In an earlier statement from the archdiocese, Archbishop Robert Carlson said that prayers were being said for the victims. He urged the community to help find the culprit.
“Our hearts go out to the victims of this horrific tragedy at Catholic Supply,” the statement said.
A shocking attack
Officers were first brought to the scene by a 911 caller who reported that the shooter went inside the store and ordered women inside to strip at gunpoint, and sexually assaulted several of them before shooting one of them in the head. McGuire said at least one sexual assault had occurred inside the store, but did not know how many victims there had been.
Shala Malik, 32, was helping a customer at her family store, Salam Market, in the same shopping center shortly before she saw two police cars pull up to the store next door.
Within minutes, more police and an ambulance arrived.
“All I could see were flashing lights,” Malik said.
She caught a glimpse of paramedics carrying a woman out of the store on a stretcher, she said. Officers told her that a man had shot the woman inside. She wondered if the shooter was trying to rob the store.
“It was very shocking for us,” Malik said. “I’m surprised I didn’t hear any shouting or anything.”
Malik was used to seeing three women who worked at the store but didn’t know their names, she said. They would sometimes buy food from Salam Market, and she would sometimes pick up mail that had accidentally been delivered to their store.
Several family and friends were calling Malik to ask if she was OK, she said.“We are next door,” she said. “I kept wondering, ‘What if it was me?’ “It’s all so, so sad. I hope they find the guy who shot her.”
The Catholic Supply store is one of three in the family-owned chain. The other two are on Highway K in O’Fallon, Mo., and on Chippewa Street in the St. Louis Hills neighborhood.
“Our Manchester location will be closed while the police investigation continues,” the company said in a Facebook post. “Our other retail locations will be closed for business on Tuesday to give our staff time to be with their families. We will reopen on Wednesday with additional security at each of our locations through the holiday season.”
Nassim Benchaabane of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.