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Grand Forks Wal-Mart evacuated after threat of gunman

A Grand Forks, N.D., police officer sets up a perimeter behind Wal-Mart on 32nd Ave. S. on Sunday, July 12, 2015, in Grand Forks. Photo by Tim Albrecht / Forum News Service1 / 2
Area law enforcement sets up a perimeter around Wal-Mart on 32nd Ave. S. on Sunday, July 12, 2015, in Grand Forks, N.D. Photo by Tim Albrecht/Forum News Service2 / 2

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- About 100 Wal-Mart employees and patrons evacuated the south Grand Forks store late Sunday after a threat of a gunman.

Grand Forks police and sheriff’s officers blocked off access to the Wal-Mart at 2551 32nd Ave. S. shortly before 9 p.m. It is the same store that saw a fatal shooting in late May.

However, in this case, it appears the threat may have been a hoax, as no gunman was found in the store, which reopened about 5:30 a.m. Monday.

Police initiated its emergency procedures, including the evacuation of staff and customers, immediately after the call came in at 8:47 p.m., Lt. Bill Macki said.

Witnesses said police told them the caller demanded $2,000, threatening there would be a shooting.

Numerous officers and law enforcement vehicles, including special operations and SWAT trucks, arrived. Three hours later, police said they were not sure if a threatening person ever entered the store.

"At this point, it does not appear an actual threat was present within the store," Macki said early this morning.

A caller reportedly told an employee he was in the store with two hostages and that he had a gun. He allegedly demanded money and threatened to harm a hostage if he did not receive the cash. He also allegedly threatened to kill a hostage if any police officers entered the store.

The Wal-Mart customers and employees then were evacuated to an area behind Sam's Club, located next door. They were allowed to retrieve their vehicles before 1 a.m. Monday.

While the evacuations were underway, a SWAT team escorted detectives and management to an area of the store where they could view store surveillance video, Macki said.  

The Wal-Mart location has been the target of other crimes.

Marcell Travon Willis, a senior airman who had been stationed at Grand Forks Air Force Base since February 2013, walked into the same Wal-Mart shortly after 1 a.m. May 26. Wielding a 9 mm handgun, Willis, 21, shot two Wal-Mart employees -- Lisa Braun, 47, was injured and Gregory Weiland, 70, died. Willis then shot at a third employee but missed before turning the gun on himself.

Willis died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.19 percent, more than twice the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

That incident is still under investigation.

In June 2013, a bomb threat -- which turned out to be a hoax -- was called into the store, which was evacuated and closed for several hours.

Steve Wagner

Grand Forks Herald Editor Steve Wagner can be reached at 701.780.1104 and swagner@gfherald.com. He joined the Herald in April 2013, and previously worked as editor at the Bemidji (Minn.) Pioneer and in several roles -- including news director, investigative reporter and crime reporter - at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. His reporting experience includes coverage of Dru Sjodin's disappearance and the federal death penalty case for her murderer, Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., along with several investigative projects. In his spare time, Wagner is an avid runner and occasionally writes about his experiences on his blog, Addicted to Running.

(701) 780-1104
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