ShopRite manager Corey Thomas locked himself, his staff and about 20 patrons inside the Timonium grocery store Saturday evening just minutes after gunfire broke out at the Sky Zone Trampoline Park next door.
The 23-year-old’s first phone call verified that his sister, who works at the Sky Zone where a 30-year-old man opened fire around 7 p.m., was safe at home. His second phone call was to other supervisors, who told Thomas to let people out of the store if they wished — but not in. They didn’t know at the time what the shooter looked like or whether they were still at large.
“Where am I going to hide? I have 20 people in here,” Thomas thought as he stood watch behind the glass doors at the entrance.
The shooting at the trampoline park on Saturday left a 32-year-old man dead. Police have since charged 30-year-old Quinton Walker with murder in the shooting of his ex-wife’s boyfriend, Marcus Whitehead. Walker was visiting his daughter at the Sky Zone around 7 p.m. when police said he shot Whitehead.
Whitehead was rushed to Maryland Shock Trauma Center and later pronounced dead.
While Americans have no shortage of reminders of the randomness in which gun violence can pierce public spaces, the fatal shooting at a Baltimore County business catering to children has left some community members like Thomas feeling uneasy.
He remained at the store until 10 p.m. that night, offering shelter to shoppers who feared leaving the store. One woman stayed for nearly two hours, he said. Thomas offered her a lawn chair to sit in and placed her groceries in a refrigerator until she felt safe leaving.
Days after the shooting, Sky Zone was operating as usual on Thursday with the addition of two armed police officers standing near the entrance. The officers are contracted through a private security company that services other Sky Zones around the region, and say they will remain at the facility during business hours for three weeks. After that, they will maintain a presence at Sky Zone during weekends.
Inside the Sky Zone, employees declined to speak about the shooting, while children bounced to Beyoncé's “Love On Top.” Parents accompanying their kids to the center say they felt safe knowing an arrest had been made in connection with the gun violence — but a feeling of unease lingered for some.
Raj Senchuri felt “terrified” on Sunday when he learned about the shooting from his children’s summer camp. The father of two was already shaken by another shooting at a local bowling alley more than a year ago, he said.
“We stopped going there for a while but conquered that fear,” he said. “It [gun violence] has become normal. But you have to go to work, go to school.”
As some families learned about the shooting for the first time Thursday, they wondered aloud if they could swap their monthly membership to a different Sky Zone location.
“They should have told us,” one mother said before inquiring about the membership. She later dropped the idea after her daughter told her she felt safe knowing police were nearby.
Around sunset Thursday, vehicles poured into the Sky Zone parking lot, which at times appeared nearly full. Parents held their children’s hands while carrying backpacks and water bottles to their cars. Others wrangled little ones into car seats. Some older kids lingered in the parking lot sipping from disposable Sky Zone cups while others bounced soccer balls and asked their parents, “What’s for dinner?”
One mother, who identified herself by her first name Tara, said her family did not hear about the shooting until later in the week. She wasn’t worried about returning to the facility, but said the incident’s proximity to children was troubling.
“Every time something like this happens, it’s a reminder to parents,” she said.
Following the shooting, Thomas said ShopRite leadership brought in a counselor to talk to employees and help them to process their emotions following the traumatic event. Others who weren’t on duty that night remarked how glad they were to have missed it.
As Thomas wandered back toward the store’s main entrance Thursday afternoon, the sliding glass doors parted to welcome shoppers once again.