Police are hailing a man who shot and killed a would-be carjacker outside a Utah grocery store, saying he did the right thing by coming to the aid of the vehicle’s owner.
The 31-year-old man with a concealed weapons permit was in the Macey’s parking lot in Orem, 45 miles south of Salt Lake City, when he heard a woman’s screams as she was being pulled from her SUV by the suspect Saturday, investigators said.
Police Capt. Ned Jackson said he does not think the shooter would face charges because he only fired his 9 mm pistol after the 27-year-old suspect lunged at him in an effort to grab the gun.
Jackson also cited Utah law, which allows the use of guns for self-defense and to prevent the commission of a forcible felony, including an attempted car theft. The fact the suspect was unarmed makes no difference because he tried to steal the SUV and posed a threat to the man, he added.
"I think you’ll have some people say he (shooter) didn’t have proper training, and some people will say stealing the car shouldn’t be a capital offense," Jackson said. "I think you’ll have other people who will say the citizen shouldn’t have turned himself into a judge and jury."
"But I think he did the right thing by being involved and helping the woman. If it was someone’s mother or sister, would they want this guy to step in and help them?" he added.
Advocates of gun control have said that the data show allowing more people to carry guns does not stop crime. Representatives of the Gun Violence Prevention Center of Utah and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence did not immediately return calls for comment on Sunday.
Utah is one of the most gun-friendly states in the United States, and it is among more than a dozen states that issue concealed-carry permits to residents of other states. About two-thirds of the nearly 577,000 permits Utah has issued in the last two decades have gone to residents from other states.
The requirements are fairly simple: Anyone 21 or older who passes a criminal background check and takes a firearms course taught by an instructor certified by Utah can get the permit.
As the bystander approached the SUV, the suspect was sitting in the driver’s seat and the woman was reaching in to try to grab her purse, according to police. The suspect also was trying to get the vehicle into gear and flee while pushing the woman out.
The suspect would not have been shot had he complied with the man’s requests to get out of the car and wait until police arrived, Jackson said. The woman’s life could have been at risk if the suspect drove off with her or ran over her while backing out, he added.
"I don’t think this man got out of the car saying ‘I’m going to shoot this guy,’" Jackson said. "The suspect really is the one making the decisions driving the whole thing. I think it’s admirable he (shooter) heard someone’s screams for help and stepped in to help."
The names of the shooter and suspect have not been released. Police plan to release more details, including the suspect’s name, on Monday. Plans also call for the eventual release of the shooter’s name.
The shooter was cooperative and gave statements to detectives, Jackson said. He had stopped at the store to buy food before going out for target shooting.
He fired one round at the suspect, hitting him in the chest. The suspect later died at a hospital.
No other injuries were reported.
The suspect allegedly assaulted a woman earlier Saturday and drove to the Macey’s parking lot in a stolen pickup. Once there, he exited the truck and tried to carjack the woman, police said. The suspect was being sought on arrest warrants for felony robbery and burglary and some misdemeanor charges.
Police will submit a report on their investigation to the Utah County attorney’s office, which will decide whether charges are warranted in the case.