GREENWOOD, Ind. (AP) — The ex-girlfriend of a 20-year-old man who fatally shot three people at an Indianapolis-area mall said he told her he didn’t expect to make it to 21 and that if he killed himself, he would “take others” with him, a police chief said Wednesday.
Jonathan Douglas Sapirman was also fascinated with Nazi Germany, according to the ex-girlfriend, who was interviewed after the July 17 shooting at the Greenwood Park Mall. But while the three slain victims were Hispanic, there was no indication the shooting was racially motivated, said Greenwood Police Chief James Ison. Authorities have not determined a specific motive for the attack, Ison said.
The ex-girlfriend never reported what Sapirman told her to the police, according to Ison, who said that otherwise there were no red flags raised that could have tipped off authorities about the killings in the city just south of Indianapolis.
Sapirman, who was shot and killed by an armed shopper shortly after opening fire, posted more than 700 comments on social media about mass killers between 2017 and this year, but never indicated he was planning to carry out such an attack, Ison said at a news conference.
“On the contrary, almost every post was more of a discussion or debate concerning other high-profile mass killings around the country,” the police chief said. He said Sapirman “acknowledged several times in these comments that he studied and researched mass killings and serial killers.”
“It seemed that he enjoyed debating” such events with other users, Ison said.
In 2019, the FBI received a tip that it should look into a Reddit username that investigators of the mall shooting later connected to Sapirman because the user seemed to be “infatuated with mass killings.”
The IP address of the posts led to an apartment complex the shooter lived in, but authorities could not pinpoint Sapirman as the user, Ison said. And even if they had, they could not have taken any action “because he wasn’t saying anything that was illegal or threatening,” the chief said. “He was just touting his knowledge.”
The FBI was able to revive Sapirman’s cellphone, which he dropped into a mall toilet before the shooting, but have not yet been able to determine its password. With about 1 million possibilities available, that ongoing process could take years, Ison said. Data on Sapirman’s laptop was completely destroyed after he placed it in an oven with a butane tank, authorities reiterated Wednesday.
The FBI had said in August that no data could be recovered from the laptop.
Investigators combed through numerous websites Sapirman may have used and interviewed dozens of people who knew or came into contact with him. The ex-girlfriend, who said she and Sapirman broke up more than a year before the shooting, told investigators that he was abusive toward her on several occasions and that he once stuck a gun in her mouth during an argument. Police did not identify her.
The ex-girlfriend also said Sapirman once told her, “‘This world is not made for me and I will not live past 20 years old,’” Ison said. Sapirman also told her that if he ever killed himself, “he would take others with him,” the police chief added.
Ison said the ex-girlfriend told investigators that Sapirman was racist toward African Americans and Hispanics because of “bad experiences that he had with people in those races while he was growing up.” Although the three slain victims were Hispanic, investigators were unable to determine if Sapirman specifically targeted them in the shooting, Ison added. He noted that the victims were nearby when Sapirman came out of the mall bathroom and started shooting.
The ex-girlfriend also told investigators she was not surprised that Sapirman committed the mass shooting. She described him as a very unhappy person, Ison said.
The shooter had a troubled upbringing and was in and out of foster homes before he later lived with an older brother, Ison said. Sapirman had quit his job in May, and days before the shooting he learned he was being evicted from his apartment “due to lack of payment,” the chief said.
Sapirman opened fire at the mall around closing time, killing married couple Pedro Pineda, 56, and Rosa Mirian Rivera de Pineda, 37; and Victor Gomez, 30, all from Indianapolis. A woman was shot in the leg and a 12-year-old girl was hit by shrapnel, police have said.
An armed bystander — 22-year-old Elisjsha Dicken, a Seymour, Indiana, man who had been at the mall shopping with his girlfriend — fatally shot Sapirman after police say the gunman fired 24 times within 15 seconds.
The prosecutor in Johnson County, where Greenwood is located, had determined that Dicken’s actions were lawful under Indiana law and he will not be charged.
“He is a true hero,” the chief said.
Authorities from the beginning said Dicken was legally armed. As of July 1, Indiana law allows anyone 18 or older to carry a handgun in public, except for those prohibited for reasons such as having a felony conviction, facing a restraining order or having a dangerous mental illness as determined by a court.
Dicken’s attorney, Guy Relford, said it can be a “traumatic experience” to have “taken a human life,” even if that act saves others’ lives.
“That’s a hard thing to recover from, even when you know you were heroic and even when you know you saved lives, and even when you are getting the thanks and congratulations from a lot of people,” Relford said after Wednesday’s news conference.
Callahan reported from Indianapolis. Rodgers is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Rodgers on Twitter at https://twitter.com/arleighrodgers