Police: Tanger Outlets mall shooter suffered mental health issues, suicidal thoughts – By Hayes Hickman and Travis Dorman (Knoxville News Sentinel) / May 22 2019
SEVIERVILLE — The gunman who killed one person and wounded another before turning the gun on himself at the Tanger Outlets mall last month reportedly suffered from mental health issues and became suicidal following an argument with his girlfriend, police have determined.
Leon Steven Jones Jr., 21, had expressed suicidal thoughts in the past, but he had never acted on them, according to the findings of the Sevierville Police Department’s investigation into the April 16 shooting, released Wednesday.
Jones’ girlfriend told police he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, according to the findings.
Jones did not know either of the two people he shot, prompting police to search for a motive for a shooting they described as “random.” Investigators ultimately determined the shooting likely was not planned, and that no one else was involved.
Shopping for an Easter dress
Leon Steven Jones in a photo taken from his November 2015 arrest in Knox County in connection with a bicycle theft. (Photo: Courtesy of Knox County)
Jones went to the popular outlet mall with his girlfriend, Kadean Carberry. The couple had planned to shop for an Easter dress that April afternoon, but they had an argument while they were still inside the vehicle.
Once they arrived, Carberry told police, Jones said he was unhappy with his life and with their relationship. He got out of the vehicle and walked toward the Coach store.
Jones grabbed Olivia Cunningham, a 24-year-old Pennsylvania woman whom he never met, according to a police report. He shot her once in the forehead, killing her instantly.
The gunman then turned toward John Marr, a 75-year-old Massachusetts man who was sitting on a bench outside the American Eagle store. Marr heard the first shot. He saw the woman’s body on the ground. He turned to run.
Jones pulled the trigger. The bullet burrowed into Marr’s chest, exited the right side of his body and sliced through his right arm.
Jones then took the gun and shot himself in the forehead.
‘I don’t know why he shot them’
The sound of gunfire sent shoppers and employees scrambling at the mall on the outskirts of Pigeon Forge, a popular tourist destination in Sevier County that draws visitors from across the country to attractions such as the Dollywood theme park.
Officers arrived at the mall on the Parkway within five minutes, but Jones and Cunningham were already dead. Marr, who had taken shelter inside a store, was treated and released from the University of Tennessee Medical Center.
In-cruiser recordings released Wednesday captured the initial exchange between Carberry and Sevierville Police Lt. Ray Brown as the gunman’s girlfriend sat sobbing in the back of a police cruiser moments after the shooting.
“He’s crazy,” Carberry said. “I’ve already talked him out of it twice. He’s not happy, he doesn’t want to be here. I don’t know why he shot them.”
Investigators walk at the scene of a shooting outside of Coach at the Tanger Outlet Mall in Sevierville, Tennessee on Tuesday, April 16, 2019. Two people including the assailant, were found dead at the scene with a third suffering from a gunshot wound. (Photo: Calvin Mattheis/News Sentinel)
Brown asked whether Jones had been in any sort of argument with the victims before he opened fire.
“No,” Carberry responded. “He was standing at my car the whole time, and then he just came up there and shot her, and then shot that old man, and then shot himself in the head.”
Detectives concluded Carberry did not know Jones was armed, nor did she have any prior knowledge that he intended to shoot anyone. She will not face charges.
An apparently unplanned shooting
Police found a .32-caliber Keltec semi-automatic handgun next to Jones’ body. Authorities have been unable to determine how Jones — a felon whose criminal history in East Tennessee included multiple theft convictions and charges stemming from jailhouse assaults — came into possession of the gun, which had not been reported stolen.
Jones fired a total of three rounds. Two bullets remained in the gun’s 10-round capacity magazine. No other weapons or ammunition were found on Jones or in the vehicle.
“Had this been a planned incident,” Lt. Brown wrote in a police report, “Mr. Jones may have had more bullets in the Keltec P32 and/or additional guns to create a maximum amount of damage.”
If you or someone you love is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) at any time or chat online at suicidepreventionlifeline.org.