CINCINNATI — A gunman entered a busy downtown Cincinnati skyscraper through a loading dock Thursday morning and then opened fire in the lobby, killing three people and injuring as many as five others before police officers fatally shot him.
One official said the attack “could have been a bloodbath beyond imagination” if police hadn’t responded so quickly, as the shooting took place at the beginning of the workday inside the Fifth Third Bank building, a 31-story tower that houses more than 3,000 employees. It sits above bustling Fountain Square a few blocks from Great American Ball Park and the riverfront along the Ohio River.
Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac identified the suspect as Omar Enrique Santa Perez, 29, who lived in an apartment on Cincinnati’s west side. Police said the circumstances surrounding the violence and a motive are unclear. Perez’s family members could not be reached Thursday.
Several witnesses said the gunman was wearing a suit during the attack, and law enforcement officials said he had hundreds of rounds of ammunition. Laura Trujillo, a spokeswoman for Fifth Third Bancorp, said the gunman “was not a former employee or current bank employee,” and authorities could not say what, if any, connection Perez had with the bank or the building.
Isaac called the rampage “very horrific.” It was the deadliest shooting in the Cincinnati region since 2013 and joins the growing list of apparently random shootings across the United States that have claimed lives in everyday places, from churches to schools to concert halls.
“These are things we see happening across the country, and we all have to be vigilant and prepared,” Isaac said.
Police found victims in and around the bank at 511 Walnut St., including one who was severely wounded and ended up at an ice cream shop steps from the building.
Witnesses said they heard volleys of gunfire, and one said that a woman was shot as she entered the bank building’s lobby. There were people screaming, “Shooter! Run — leave!” in Fountain Square, a park that often hosts concerts, dancing, and food trucks.
Police cordoned off a 22-unit brick apartment building in a quiet working-class subdivision, across the street from the Ohio River, as they searched Perez’s apartment. Records indicate that Perez had lived in Florida and South Carolina.
His Cincinnati neighbors said they believed Perez often worked from home and kept to himself. Neighbor Karen Rose said Perez’s car recently broke down, leading him to take the bus; she said he seemed “standoffish” and often wore ear buds.
Police said they are looking into his mental health issues. Perez filed a lawsuit against CNBC and TD Ameritrade which a federal judge said “borders on the delusional,” according to court documents. In the complaint, filed in June in federal court in Ohio, Perez alleged that his online communications were being monitored. A judge dismissed the case, writing that it was “rambling” and suggesting that it was “wholly incredible.”
Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley (D) said in an interview with The Washington Post that the gunman appeared to be actively shooting at random inside the bank building when police confronted him and that the officers “were able to kill him and stop the threat.”
“This should never be a normalized thing. We have innocent people going to work and getting shot,” Cranley said. “This is an epidemic of gun violence. These kinds of mass random things are similar to inner-city violence that rip apart low-income communities, and both those and the ones we are seeing all across the country — in churches, in schools, in nightclubs — are so tragic. This is an American problem. We have to put human lives before ideology.”
Richard Newcomer, 64, a construction supervisor who was doing a project at the bank, was among those killed Thursday morning. Wes Cotter, a spokesman with Gilbane Building Co., said Newcomer was at the skyscraper to gather details for ongoing work when he was shot.
“It’s such a tragedy,” Cotter said. “There are no words to describe how we’re feeling.”
The other victims were Pruthvi Raj Kandepi, 25, and Luis Felipe Calderón, 48, according to the Hamilton County Coroner’s office.
Coroner Lakshmi Sammarco said in a statement that she had actually met Kandepi, who is from India, before at the Hindu temple in Cincinnati.
“It is with great sadness that I announce this. How do you tell parents who live 10,000 miles away that they will never see their son again because of a senseless shooting in a foreign country?” she wrote. “Rest in peace to the other victims as well.”
Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters said the gunman had several hundred rounds of ammunition with him when he was killed. “This could have been a bloodbath beyond imagination,” Deters said.
One witness, Leonard Cain, told the Cincinnati Enquirer that he was going into the bank when someone yelled that he shouldn’t because of the shooting. He said a woman was walking into the bank at the same time, but she had headphones on and apparently couldn’t hear the warnings.
“She walked in the door and he shot her,” Cain told the Enquirer.
Bank manager Greg Harshfield, who on the 29th floor of the building when the shooting began, said he heard multiple shots and saw police arrive almost immediately.
“We could see there was a large police presence that seemed to come quickly, and could see them blocking Fountain Square,” Harshfield told reporters. “We knew immediately something was wrong. We’re, of course, rattled.”
Television footage showed bodies being carried out on stretchers and police surrounding the area around the Fifth Third Center skyscraper, which is the bank’s corporate headquarters. Three men and a woman were taken to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, hospital officials said. One person has died, two are in critical condition and one is in serious condition. Each had gunshot wounds, officials said.
Officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives arrived on the scene to sweep the building, agency spokeswoman Suzanne Dabkowski said.
By lunchtime, the normally bustling area was quiet and the Red Cross was handing out water and snacks to displaced workers in the 90-degree heat.
The Cincinnati Reds announced that the team planned to have a moment of silence “in honor of the victims” before the national anthem at Thursday night’s game against the San Diego Padres.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Cranley said. “This is not normal, and it shouldn’t be viewed as normal. This is abnormal. No other industrialized country has this level of active multiple shooting on a regular basis. . . . I think there’s something deeply sick at work here, and we as a country have got to deal with it.”
Williams is a freelance reporter based in Ohio. Wax-Thibodeaux reported from Washington. Julie Tate in Washington contributed to this report.