Officials identify airman as shooter in Grand Forks Wal-Mart

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Police have identified a 21-year-old airman as the gunman in a deadly shooting Tuesday at the Wal-Mart in south Grand Forks, but are still unsure what prompted his actions.

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Police have identified a 21-year-old airman as the gunman in a deadly shooting Tuesday at the Wal-Mart in south Grand Forks, but are still unsure what prompted his actions.

Marcell Travon Willis, originally from Springfield, Tenn., fatally shot one Wal-Mart employee and injured another before turning the gun on himself early Tuesday.

He was on active duty at Grand Forks Air Force Base. Base officials declined to release any information on Willis--including his rank and how long he had been stationed at the base--saying a news release will be available today.

Grand Forks police said Willis entered the store, 2551 32nd Ave. S., just after 1 a.m. Tuesday and soon after entering, shot two employees -- one of them fatally --  with a handgun, though police declined to say what kind of handgun was used. Willis also shot but missed another Wal-Mart employee before fatally shooting himself, police said.

The motive remains unknown, said Grand Forks Police Lt. Derik Zimmel, adding police believe the victims were strangers to Willis.


As of Tuesday afternoon, there was no indication Willis was suffering from a mental illness, Zimmel said. He did not know whether Willis was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the shooting.

The police report lists a 63-year-old man and a 47-year-old woman as victims of the shooting. The 63-year-old man was a Wal-Mart employee who was fatally shot, while the 47-year-old woman was the injured employee.

The man who died, Greg Weiland, was a farmer who worked overnights at the store, according to a report from WDAY-TV.

Altru Health System confirmed the hospital had admitted another victim of the shooting and that the victim was in "satisfactory condition" as of early Tuesday.

Police say they will officially release the victims' names today.

Zimmel also declined to say where the victims were shot.

'Something I never wanted to see'


Dispatchers received reports of gunshots fired at Wal-Mart at 1:04 a.m. Tuesday, and the first officers arrived on scene at 1:08 a.m, according to police records.

The shots sent shoppers running for the exits and seeking shelter within the building.

Grand Forks resident Andy Legg was among the shoppers inside Wal-Mart at the time of the shooting and called 911 after he realized it was gunshots he was hearing. Legg said he heard a "loud bang" and then another one.

At first, he thought it was pallets dropping.

But then he heard screams as shots rang out again.

"From what I can recall, it was either five or six" shots fired, Legg said.


Peeking around the end of an aisle, he saw people "scattering" and figured, "That's got to be a gun," and rushed toward a corner of the store, dialing 911 as he did, he said.

Wal-Mart employees soon rounded up Legg and other shoppers and herded them toward the sporting goods section of the store, where they waited until police officers arrived minutes later.

"The employees did a really, really good job at getting everybody together," said Legg. "Like I told the manager at Wal-Mart, it was like they had practiced. ... They kept their cool, and they were communicating between radios."

By the time police arrived on scene, the shooting had stopped, Zimmel said.

Their guns drawn, officers hurried everyone out of the building. Other officers gave medical attention to the victims, including Willis, who was pronounced dead at Altru Hospital.

On his way out, escorted by police, Legg saw a Wal-Mart employee lying on the ground, "obviously ... dead."

"It was something I never wanted to see," said Legg, saying it was still difficult to believe that what he had witnessed had happened in Grand Forks.

When Legg gave an interview around 5 p.m. Tuesday, he said he had not slept a wink between talking with the media and dealing with the aftermath of the shooting.


"I tried to lay down to nap, and it runs through my mind," he said.

Legg was among approximately 20 other customers in the store at the time, according to Wal-Mart spokesman Brian Nick. There were also about 30 Wal-Mart employees working in the store at the 1 a.m. hour, Nick said.

'Not normal'

Grand Forks officers and North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation agents remained on scene through midday Tuesday, with yellow tape cordoning off part of the parking lot in front of Wal-Mart and blocking the entrances to the building.

Grand Forks Regional SWAT and Bomb Teams were deployed to clear the scene and make sure it was secure. Shortly after 4 a.m., the SWAT team used a robot to open and search a car in the parking lot near the Wal-Mart entrance.


Police would not say whether the car belonged to Willis, though the car did have custom plates displaying the logos of two Tennessee college football teams.

Wal-Mart remained closed Tuesday.

In a statement issued by Nick, the spokesman, Wal-Mart said it was "deeply saddened" by the shooting.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families," the statement read. "We are still learning information about the events surrounding this tragedy and assisting law enforcement in their investigation."

Grand Forks Mayor Michael Brown also expressed his sympathies to the victims and their families, saying the city was also "deeply saddened" by the shooting.

"An incident like this shakes our community," Brown wrote in a statement. "It is not normal for us in Grand Forks."

He reassured residents that Grand Forks is a safe community.

Meanwhile, Grand Forks police encourage anyone with information on the shooting, or on any of the people involved, to contact the police department.


"We would especially encourage anyone who was in the store at the time of the incident who has not yet spoken to an investigator to call us," reads a statement issued by the police department Tuesday afternoon.

Reporter Charly Haley and Editor Steve Wagner contributed to this report.

Police left asking why

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Investigators are asking why a 21-year-old airman walked into a Wal-Mart in south Grand Forks Tuesday and shot two employees before turning the gun on himself.

Marcell Travon Willis, originally of Springfield, Tenn., graduated from Springfield High School in 2012 as a U.S. Air Force recruit on scholarship, according to his high school's website. He was stationed on active duty at the Grand Forks Air Force Base and had been with his girlfriend, Amy Mehs, a Grand Forks resident, for nine months, according to their social media accounts.

The pair were to be wed in September, Mehs wrote on Facebook.

But according to Grand Forks investigators, Willis killed himself after entering the Wal-Mart in south Grand Forks and shooting two employees, killing one and injuring the other, in a shooting shortly after 1 a.m. Tuesday that lasted no more than 10 minutes.

Grand Forks Police did not know whether Willis was suffering from a mental illness, nor did they know whether he was under the influence of any alcohol or drugs at the time of the shooting.

When asked whether police had any ideas why Willis stopped shooting and turned the gun on himself, Zimmel said, "That's a question we may never know."

For the most part, what is publicly visible of Willis' Twitter and Facebook accounts leaves few clues.

In one of his Facebook profile pictures, Willis poses for a picture with his beaming girlfriend, Mehs. In another, Willis holds up a certificate and writes "Finally!! I'm a Senior Airman!" In yet another, dated November 2014, Willis is seen posing with U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Mark Welsh and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James Cody in their military fatigues. Welsh and Cody visited Grand Forks Air Force Base in 2013.

Just before 11 p.m. Monday, Willis published his last Tweet on Twitter, saying, "GOOOOOO HAWKSSSS."

Nearly 15 minutes later, a post on his Facebook wall read, "RIP TO ME LOVE EVERYONE," according to reports from WDAY-TV.

Roughly two hours later, he was pronounced dead at Altru Hospital in Grand Forks.

Mehs began a Facebook post with a plea: "Prayers needed please."

She described Willis as her "best friend," "partner in life" and "one true love."

"I know you loved me. I know you know I loved you," she wrote.

Mehs changed her profile picture Tuesday to a photo of her and Willis swimming. Friends shared their condolences in the comments section.

Willis had brought Mehs with him on a road trip to visit his family and friends in Tennessee a few weeks ago, according to his hometown friend Cody Carter, who said of Willis, "We would never have a dull moment."

He described Willis as intelligent, helpful and "goofy." Willis was an avid sports fan and had played on his high school's football team.

"He was a bright young man," said Carter, who has known Willis since middle school. "And always had a smile on his face."

Before he left Tennessee for North Dakota again, Carter told him, "Be careful when you get back up there."

Carter said when he heard what happened, "I was distraught."

But he said he believes Willis "didn't do it."

"Marcell wasn't crazy. He was a great, young guy," Carter said. "I think he was in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Mehs wrote on Facebook that if given the opportunity, she would tell Willis to "rest easy."

"I hope you feel no pain where you are today," she wrote.

Mehs did not respond to a Facebook message requesting an interview.

Reporters John Hageman and Charly Haley contributed to this report.

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