- By Eric Schwartzberg Staff Writer
Vanessa Roth drove from Lawrence, Ky., to Cincinnati’s Fountain Square on Friday to show respect for the victims of Thursday’s mass shooting and to express support for the police officers who shot and killed the attacker.
“It gave me chills that they were there within seconds,” Roth said. “It’s just an awesome feeling how good that the police are around here.”
Omar Santa-Perez fired about 35 rounds as he shot and killed three people and seriously wounded two others in the 30-story Fifth Third Center in the heart of the city.
The four Cincinnati officers who engaged Santa-Perez and shot him through the building windows earned praise from many people on Friday, including Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley.
“The police saved lives, and we owe them all a huge debt of gratitude,” Cranley said. “It was horrible enough, but trust me, it would have been a lot worse if those officers hadn’t rushed in when they did.”
Those killed were: bank employee Luis Calderon, 48; Pruthvi Kandepi, a 25-year-old engineer who worked as a consultant for the bank; and Richard Newcomer, 64, a contractor who worked for Gilbane Building Company. Newcomer is believed to be a 1972 Xenia High School graduate who had lived in Cincinnati for many years.
Cranley said he had talked to Newcomer’s wife, Cynthia, who said her husband was a construction worker in Cincinnati for more than 30 years “and that he built this city.”
“He loved the city, he loved the Bengals,” Cranley said. “Cincinnati is strong because of people, everyday citizens who build buildings and do their jobs … “
POLICE BODY CAM: Running toward gunfire, taking down a killer
Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac said Santa-Perez entered the Fifth Third Center through a side door and began firing shots in the lobby.
The chief said investigators believe Santa-Perez’ gun — purchased legally from a store in August — jammed at some point but that he was able to resume firing.
“Running towards gunfire,” the chief said officers Jennifer Chilton, Antonio Etter and Eric Kaminsky, plus police specialist Gregory Toyeas, encountered and shot 11 times at Santa-Perez through plate-glass windows. The chief said investigators did not know which officers struck the gunman.
Isaac said Santa-Perez fired his first shot at 9:06 a.m., and the first 911 calls were made 55 seconds later. Officers were on scene about 3.5 minutes later, and within 4 minutes and 28 seconds, they had shot Santa-Perez.
‘I REFUSE TO BE AFRAID’: The scene at Cincinnati’s Fountain Square a day after downtown’s shooting deaths
Santa-Perez carried a briefcase with 250 additional rounds.
“If he had gotten on the elevator, gone up to a floor, if he had been there earlier or a little bit longer, many more people would have been killed,” Cranley said.
The wounded included Fifth Third employee Whitney Austin, who was shot 12 times.
Austin is based in Louisville and had driven to Cincinnati for a meeting Thursday. She was on a conference call as she walked into the Fifth Third Center lobby’s revolving doors and directly into the shooting.
Austin, a senior product manager for digital lending, said in a statement that she was especially grateful to the two police officers who rushed to her aid and carried her out of the line of fire after she was shot.
“I’m so thankful to the paramedics and first responders and the doctors, nurses and staff at UC Medical,” she said.
“I’m still processing the events from (Thursday), the impact to the victims, to me and the community. And I’m thinking about how I can make a difference in the future.”
Isaac said investigators still do not have a motive for the shootings.
Officers were looking into possible “mental health issues” and are aware of lawsuits filed by Santa-Perez that claimed he was being watched.
He filed a lawsuit in 2017 that claimed CNBC Universal Media LLC and TD Ameritrade Holding Corp. hacked into his computer, spied on him and published details about him. Both companies rejected the claims, and a federal magistrate in late June recommended dismissing the lawsuit, saying it was “rambling, difficult to decipher and borders on delusional.”
Mayor Cranley said it was a time to pray, then added, “We also need to take the actions necessary to prevent crazy people from getting guns.”
Residents came back to Fountain Square a day after the shooting, some to say that they won’t live in fear of violence and others to honor the victims.
Early in the day, 10 bouquets of flowers decorated the rim of the fountain itself.
Larry House, of Cold Spring, Ky., who said he often comes to downtown Cincinnati for work a couple of days during the week, came to sit at a table in Fountain Square on his vacation week.
“I’m not going to be constrained by someone with a gun,” he said. “I refuse to be afraid.”
Roth, a nurse who brought her infant daughter with her Friday to Fountain Square, said a relative of hers is a longtime manager at Fifth Third and was “pretty traumatized” by the shooting.
“Nothing like this has ever happened here before,” she said.
Sharon Cummings, of Washington D.C., said she and her husband arrived at a hotel across the street from Fountain Square on Wednesday night and heard Thursday morning’s incident from their room but didn’t know what was happening.
With Fountain Square reopened Friday and most of the police tape down, she decided to visit.
“We figured it was the safest place now … after yesterday, unfortunately,” she said. “It’s so bad, you know? It’s in schools, it’s everywhere. It’s so random, but what can you do?”
Large crowds gathered later in the day for a vigil on Fountain Square.
“We are Cincinnati strong … and we will continue to take care of each other through this crisis,” said Michael Johnson, United Way of Greater Cincinnati president and CEO. “I’m glad we could take this moment for our city and everyone that is hurt.”