Omaha Target shooting: Law enforcement aware suspect had history of mental health issues

Joey Jones’ family called the incident ‘suicide by cop’
Published: Feb. 2, 2023 at 5:01 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - As more details emerged about the gunman killed after wreaking havoc on employees and shoppers as he was firing inside a west Omaha SuperTarget, many are questioning how he was able to obtain a firearm.

Shoppers were welcomed back to the store Thursday morning at 10 a.m.

Drew Guenther, the store director, issued a statement ahead of the reopening thanking customers and “the community for the kind outreach these past couple of days,” and that the initial response by Omaha Police “likely saved lives.”

The gunman has been identified as 32-year-old Joey Jones of Omaha. Police said he was armed with an AR-15-style rifle and 13 loaded magazines when he entered the store.

Shortly thereafter, Jones was shot and killed by an OPD officer inside the store Tuesday.

His family called it “suicide by cop.”

Investigators say Jones had fired multiple shots in the SupertTarget store but didn’t hit anyone, despite the store being crowded at the lunch hour on a weekday.

6 News has learned that Jones had a number of run-ins with investigators regarding his mental health. His family routinely took away guns he had purchased. The Sarpy County Sheriff told 6 News they still have one of his handguns in their possession, taken during a schizophrenic episode last year.

From a review of records, Jones spent several days in emergency protective custody last year, once in Omaha and once in Kansas based on his behavior. In Emporia, Kansas, he was found lying in the middle of the interstate, wanting to get run over by a semi.

Many people would think being put in emergency protective custody twice in one year would prevent someone from buying a semi-automatic rifle at Cabela’s.

It does not.

The Gun Control Act of 1968 means his family would likely have needed to get the county attorney to put Joey Jones’ case before the Board of Mental Health to determine that and to prevent him from buying a gun.

Mayor Jean Stothert talked about the issue Thursday, noting that the city has added mental health care responders.

“Every one of our precincts — people would be amazed at the number of calls that come into 911 that are mental-health related,” she said. “And so we’ve taken action on that, several years ago, since we started this program — that any call that is mental-health related, a professional mental health correspondent goes with that officer; and that mental health professionals should not go alone, as many times it’s a dangerous situation.”

The need for that sort of response crystalizes in incidents like Tuesday’s SuperTarget shooting, particularly as more comes to light about the suspect’s history of mental illness.

“You know these are things that happen, and we have to understand them, and we have to take any action we possibly can,” she said.

Photographer Roger Hamer and Digital Director Gina Dvorak contributed to this report.