Sara Wiles, an ICU nurse from Collierville, Tennessee, says she was picking up some items for dinner at the local Kroger Grocery store when all hell broke loose. She was on the scene when a shooter opened fire on customers and staff, leaving one person dead as well as the shooter and another 14 injured.
Wiles says the entire experience left her shaken to her core.
Police have identified the shooter as UK Thang, 29, a third-party vendor for the store. He is also confirmed dead after a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
A total of 15 victims were shot, including 70-year-old Olivia King, who died from her wounds. The rest are in stable condition. Of the victims, ten were employees and five were customers.
Collierville Police Department Chief Dale Lane said the shooter had a few minor charges in his history, but nothing related to violence. He believes the shooter acted alone.
All of the store’s 44 employees have been accounted for. The police referred to the crime scene as “significant”, adding that many people hid in freezers and locked offices when the shooting broke out.
Brignetta Dickerson, a cashier at the store, said she ran into a back room with other employees. The gunman came in and started shooting, striking one person in the head and another in the stomach. He then left and continued to open fire.
“All of a sudden, I went through the receiving department…and here he comes right behind us to start shooting and he kept shooting and shooting and shooting,” she told a local news outlet.
Another employee, Jean Prost, said they were in the produce department when they first heard a gunshot.
“I thought, ‘Gosh, she’s busting a lot of balloons.’ And I looked up and I see people running, and I thought, ‘Oh — something is happening, or they wouldn’t be running,'” said Prost.
They then ran outside with another employee and found a “little brick corner” to hide near.
“I’m thinking, ‘There’s nowhere to hide.’ You’re just out in the open and you’re at his mercy and he could just shoot you,” said Prost. “I was so scared I couldn’t even run.”
A spokesperson for the grocery retailer issued a statement, saying, “The entire Kroger family offers our thoughts, prayers and support to the individuals and families of the victims during this difficult time.”
“We are cooperating with local law enforcement, who have secured the store and parking lot. The store will remain closed while the police investigation continues, and we have initiated counseling services for our associates,” the statement continued.
Police say the shooter’s car is still in the parking lot. The area is secure, but the store will remain closed as they continue their investigation.
A Heartbreaking Ordeal
Wiles was shopping for food like everyone else when the shooting occurred.
“Just walked in on a Thursday to buy a potato, an onion to make soup for dinner, and was in the back and I heard the initial pop of the gun, but at that time I thought it was one of the Mylar balloons,” she said on Friday. She then ran to the meat department when she heard more gunshots.
That’s when a Kroger employee ushered her and another customer into the back near the stockrooms. “We made ourselves a hiding space and we hid in that area until we could hear things start to settle down,” Wiles recalled.
Once things had cooled, the police found them and brought them back to the front of the store where the other victims were waiting.
Wiles says her instincts as a nurse kicked in immediately.
“I just turned and looked at the paramedics and said I’m a nurse, what do I do? What do you need me to do? And just went around and checked on people, asked them how they were doing and made sure that people were conscious,” Wiles said.
As a longtime resident of the community, Wiles said she never expected anything like this.
“Everybody says when they’ve seen this scenario that it never happens in my community. I can tell you that’s true living here for 33 years,” she said while praising the first responders. “It could have been a whole lot worse had it been a weekend.”
Our hearts and prayers go out to everyone involved in this tragic event.