CARY, N.C. (WNCN) – A teen could spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted of shooting several bookstore employees and customers.
Investigators said 18-year-old Jonathan Courtney entered the Barnes & Noble near Cary Towne Center on Friday evening and began to fire metal pellets from an air rifle and an air pistol. Arrest warrants reveal he also had an improvised explosive device in his possession. Cary police did not respond to a request for more information about the weapons.
One of the store’s employees was the first person wounded by the BB guns.
“He didn’t say a word. He just raised up his gun, and shot me three times,” said the employee, who spoke to CBS 17 on the condition of anonymity.
“I said, ‘What the eff,’ and he didn’t say anything. He just kept going down the row, and shot up the cafe and all the glass. Everyone scattered,” he said. “I started running towards the back to let people out the back door. When I did that, I looked out the back door to the right, and I saw the guy walking, very casually, away.”
Doctors had to remove metal balls from his right hand and both his arms. The employee said he did not immediately realize how many times he was hit.
Witnesses said the air guns were made to look like real firearms, with the air rifle modeled after an assault rifle. Arrest warrants identify five victims, three of whom were struck by the pellets.
“It likely wouldn’t have killed anyone unless he’d hit someone in the temple or shot a child,” said a customer who also asked CBS 17 not to identify her by name.
“But the terror he inflicted was absolutely real, and the trauma my children endured seeing me bleeding and taken the hospital, while they had to go with cops, is real, even if the bullet wasn’t. It tore into my back as I shielded my kids and screamed at them to run ahead of me,” she said. “All I could think after I realized he was shooting at me was that I was going to die.”
She said leaving her house is hard right now. She has begun to think about locating escape routes where she goes. The stress has already become overwhelming several times since the Friday incident.
The woman suffered a wound to her back, and while the physical pain will soon go away, the mental effects are lasting. A physician told her she would not have survived had the pellet been a bullet.
“That’s a hard thing to wrap my head around as I go down the rabbit hole of what would have happened to my youngest children if I’d died right there,” she said.
Two other customers who encountered Courtney at the store Friday night attended his Monday afternoon court appearance in order to face him again.
Katia Bagley said Courtney got within five feet of her before her father, Steven, pulled her behind one of the bookstore cabinets. She tried to figure out how to escape as she heard glass shatter and people scream.
“I realize it’s an active shooter, and I don’t really know what to do because I’ve never been in a situation like this,” Bagley said. “(It seemed like) everyone else in the store is paralyzed with fear. Like, no one else is moving besides me and my dad.”
Her father attempted to chase Courtney away from the other customers. Officers captured the 18-year-old and charged him with 10 felonies and two misdemeanors.
Bagley, who is 14 years old, said she feels bad for Courtney. She said he likely needs to go to a mental treatment facility rather than to prison.
Wake County District Judge Eric Chasse read a list of possible maximum sentences to Courtney, which totaled 1,004 months. Serving that much time consecutively would run through Courtney’s 102nd birthday.
The employee who was hit by three of the BBs said he hopes the shooter will receive a prison sentence of at least 10 years.
“The look on this guy’s face. It was evil. There was nothing there. It was just blank evil,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any way to rehab this guy.”
Courtney’s next court date is April 15.
Barnes and Noble sent the following statement to CBS 17:
Yesterday’s incident is yet another example of the violence to which increasing numbers of American citizens have been subjected to. We feel terrible about the people who were injured, and for the entire community of Cary, including the booksellers who were in our store. We thank the local police for their quick work in apprehending the suspect and we will continue to cooperate fully as they continue their investigation. Until further notice, we will provide security personnel during the hours our store is open.
Cary police officers rotated shifts at the store Monday, with marked patrol vehicles taking turns in the parking lot throughout the day.