Four Dead, Including Gunman, in Shootings Downtown at Cincinnati's Fifth Third Center

A shooter entered the building through a loading dock before firing numerous shots in the lobby of the bank's headquarters, killing three

Sep 6, 2018 at 10:30 am
click to enlarge Four Dead, Including Gunman, in Shootings Downtown at Cincinnati's Fifth Third Center
Nick Swartsell

It was over in minutes. But before police shot through plate glass windows and killed him, Omar Enrique Santa-Perez ended three peoples' lives and injured two with a legally-obtained 9 mm pistol in the downtown Cincinnati headquarters of Fifth Third Bank the morning of Sept. 6.

It was the deadliest mass shooting in Cincinnati in five years.

Santa-Perez, 29, entered the towering office building via a loading dock and began firing shortly after 9 a.m. He then made his way to the lobby of the building, firing numerous times seemingly at random.

At a news event about an hour after the killings, Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac called the shootings “a very horrific situation” and said authorities were working to piece together what happened.

"We’re in the very early stages of this investigation,” he said. “There are lot of interviews to be done, lots of crime scene to be processed.”

No officers were injured, Isaac said. But terror and confusion reigned in the minutes during which Santa-Perez, a man who had experienced financial and employment difficulties and may have been struggling with mental illness and paranoid delusions, carried out his shooting spree.

Leonard Cain works for Gilbane Construction, which is doing a job on the third floor of the Fifth Third Center, and was about to enter the building when he was told about the shooting. He says he heard 15 rapid shots. A woman who seemed not to hear warnings to stay out of the building was shot when she entered, Cain said. Cain quickly hustled across the street to the lobby of the Westin Hotel. He said he also believed his boss, Richard Newcomer, was shot and killed in the incident. Gilbane later confirmed the death of the 64-year-old construction superintendent.

Pruthvi Raj Kandepi, 25, a contractor for Maryland-based TEK Systems, and Luis Felipe Calderón, 48, were the other two victims killed in the shooting. Calderón was a finance manager for Fifth Third who moved to Cincinnati a year ago for the job.

Whitney Austin, a 37-year-old from Louisville who works as a vice president for Fifth Third, took 12 bullets in the shooting, but survived, The Cincinnati Enquirer reports. The other wounded victim, Brian Sarver, is a contractor for CBRE. He remained at University of Cincinnati Medical Center in stable condition the day after the shooting.

Many others narrowly avoided the carnage.

Eboni Ginyard, an employee at the Dunkin Donuts located in the lobby of the building, clutched an asthma inhaler and worked to catch her breath at a streetcar stop a block away from the building in the aftermath.

She and four other employees thought the gunfire was construction workers dropping things. When it became apparent that someone was shooting, Ginyard and her co-workers hit the floor of the coffee shop and waited. The shooter fired "five or six times," Ginyard said. There was a pause, and, incredibly, a customer came in for a drink.

Employees brought him behind the counter to hide. Then the gunman, who apparently reloaded, started to shoot again.

Officials would later say Santa Perez was carrying 200 extra rounds in a briefcase.

"Next thing we knew, we saw the glass flying and smelled the gunpowder," Ginyard said. "All he had to do was look over at us and he could have shot us. Everyone was in there crying. We didn't know what to do."

Police arrived quickly after receiving a call about the shooting at roughly 9:10 a.m., and at least three officers exchanged fire with the gunman. Officers fired through a window initially and hit the gunman within minutes.

At 9:13 a.m., officers were relaying the location and condition of the victims, and by 9:20 a.m., emergency crews were removing two victims from the building on stretchers and wheeling them toward the south side of Fountain Square, on Fifth Street. One, a male, had a severe head injury. Another appeared to be a woman covered in blood.

Nearby, employees of Graeter's Ice Cream, which is also on the ground floor of the building, tried to comfort each other as they waited for a bus to take them from the scene. The building's tan-clad security personnel hugged.

Cincinnati Police worked through each floor of the 30-story building before declaring the scene clear. Within hours of the shooting, Hamilton County Sheriff deputies searched an apartment in North Bend where Santa-Perez had been living, but did not find any immediate evidence that would point toward a motive for his tragic acts.

"Our first responders did a heroic job today,” Mayor John Cranley said after the scene was cleared. “It was clearly horrific, but it also clearly could have been much, much worse. It’s heartbreaking. This is not normal, and it shouldn’t be viewed as normal. No other industrialized nation in the world has this level of active shooter situations on a regular basis. There’s something deeply sick at work here, and we as a country have to deal with it. At any given time at any place in this country, people are engaged in these active shootings, which is grotesque. In my opinion, all options need to be on the table.”

A crowd of roughly 50 people who showed up for Cincinnati City Council's regularly-scheduled meeting later in the day gave Chief Isaac a standing ovation — a wave of appreciation that comes after a rough number of months for the city’s police department.

It didn't take long for the highly-charged political debate around gun control to emerge following the shootings.

"We’ve got to have some serious gun legislation,” State Sen. Cecil Thomas, a Democrat and former police officer from Cincinnati, said at the scene shortly after the shootings. “I know they say guns don’t kill people. But let’s make it as difficult as possible for those people to get their hands on guns... At some point, we’re going to have to make some decisions in this country and in the state of Ohio.”

Other elected officials were more reserved in their statements than Thomas.

"What a sick, tragic way for this day to begin," Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld tweeted. "The scourge of gun violence leaves only loss."

The Fifth Third shootings mark the 15th mass shooter situation with four or more victims in Greater Cincinnati since 2013. Those shootings have injured more than 90 people. The violence at Fifth Third was deadlier than 2017's Cameo Nightclub shooting, which killed two and injured 15.

Nationwide, there have been 242 shootings that have injured at least four people in 2018, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Nine of those have been in Ohio, including one earlier this month at a club in Cleveland that killed one and injured seven and another incident in Cincinnati in East Price Hill in May that injured four.

Councilwoman Amy Murray, a Republican, was at the scene shortly after the shooting. She stressed focus on mental health concerns as the way to prevent mass shootings. She acknowledged she didn't have evidence that a mental health issue contributed to the shooting at Fifth Third.

Details would emerge later in the day, however, that gunman Santa-Perez may have been suffering from mental illness. In 2017 and again this year, he filed lawsuits in the U.S. District Court for Southern Ohio against CNBC and NBC Universal alleging that the media companies were spying on his personal electronic devices and using them to defame him in broadcasts. No material involving Santa-Perez is evident from either broadcaster, and a judge dismissed both lawsuits with prejudice.

"Plaintiff's pro se complaint is rambling, difficult to decipher, and borders on the delusional," U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Karen L. Litkovitz wrote June 26 this year in recommending the latter suit be dismissed. "Plaintiff's complaint provides no factual content or context from which the court may infer that the defendants violated plaintiff's rights."

Santa-Perez had lived in Cincinnati since about 2015. He had lived in Greenville, S.C., where he was the subject of a trespassing complaint after refusing to leave the premises of a former employer, local media there reports. He also lived in Florida prior to his time in Cincinnati, where he had minor run-ins with the law.

This story has been updated throughout the day.