A white man who allegedly killed two people at a Kroger grocery store in Kentucky tried to enter a predominantly black church nearby minutes before the fatal shooting, police said.
Police arrested suspect Gregory A. Bush, 51, shortly after the shooting, which happened in the Louisville suburb of Jeffersontown.
"Our hearts break for the families of the those we lost to the tragedy at the Jeffersontown Kroger," Russell M. Coleman, the US attorney for the Western District of Kentucky, said in a statement Friday. "The murders are not being taken lightly by the United States government. Federal investigators are supporting local law enforcement and examining this matter from the perspective of federal criminal law, which includes potential civil rights violations such as hate crimes."
Suspect was seen on video
Surveillance video showed that 10 to 15 minutes before the grocery store shooting, Bush tried to enter the First Baptist Church in Jeffersontown, police Chief Sam Rogers said.
A church member sitting in the parking lot saw the suspect banging on and pulling the door, trying to get inside, the affiliate reported.
"To think that an hour and a half earlier, we had 70 people in the church," church administrator Billy Williams told the affiliate. "But by the time he came through, all doors were locked, and there were probably eight or 10 still in the building."
When Bush was unable to enter the church, he went to Kroger and opened fire in the store, killing Stallard, 69, police said.
The suspect then fled the store and shot a second victim, Jones, 67, in the parking lot, according to authorities.
He exchanged multiple rounds of gunfire in the Kroger parking lot with an armed civilian who had a carry concealed permit. Nobody was injured, and the suspect fled the scene, police said. He was arrested nearby.
Boy watched his grandfather get shot
Stallard was at the store with his 12-year-old grandson buying a poster board for the boy's school project when he got shot. His grandson ran out of the store, screaming for help, Enzo Palombino said.
Palombino told the affiliate that the boy ran toward him. He grabbed his hand and took him to his car, where they called the boy's mother.
"We're on the phone just trying to get ahold of his mom, and I could just see the fear in his face," he said. "And I'm holding him the whole time."
Palombino said the boy's screaming and yelling is still replaying in his head.
Kroger said it was saddened by the shooting, and has closed the store until the investigation concludes. It referred all questions to local law enforcement.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said Stallard was the father of Kellie Watson, the chief equity officer for the city of Louisville.
"I'm just sick and heartbroken and quite angry. I feel that way about any act of violence and cruelty," Fischer said.
Jeffersontown Mayor Bill Dieruf said the shooting has shattered a community that values its sense of family.
"We are kindred spirits no matter our walk of life or how we worship or what we look like. We take pride in that," he said.
Jeffersontown is about 15 miles southeast of Louisville.