ROYAL PALM BEACH, Fla. – Detectives believe the Publix murder-suicide was a random act by a mentally ill man who had made online threats, and that a grandmother fighting back may have saved other lives, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office said Friday.
Timothy J. Wall, 55 of Loxahatchee, is the man authorities say killed a woman and her nearly 2-year-old grandson before taking his own life in the frightening supermarket shooting Thursday morning.
“He’s wearing all black, sunglasses and a black hat. He shot a child,” someone who called 911 told the dispatcher.
“Is the child on the floor right now?” the dispatcher asked.
“We had to run. He started shooting multiple people,” the caller said.
Investigators say Wall walked into the Publix at 1180 Royal Palm Beach Boulevard in Royal Palm Beach about 20 minutes after the woman and child, using a golf club putter as a cane. Palm Beach Sheriff Ric Bradshaw says the woman had stepped away from her shopping cart for just a second to get an item when Wall attacked at 11:34 a.m.
“He takes out his gun and he fires one round killing the child,” PBSO Maj. Talal Masri said. “Grandma instinctively jumps in to try and stop him, she struggles with him. His gun jams but he’s able to overpower her push her to the ground and he shoots her down while she’s on the ground.”
Wall then turned the gun on himself, investigators say.
PBSO believes the 69-year-old woman fighting back allowed other people time to flee the store and escape more potential bloodshed.
The young boy was to turn 2 later this month. His grandmother was a retired registered nurse. Authorities have not released either of the victims’ names.
The woman’s son, and the deceased boy’s father, is a civilian employee with the Sunny Isles Beach Police Department. He’s an evidence specialist who has worked for the agency for more than 20 years. He had to come to the scene Thursday to identify the bodies of his son and his mother.
The investigation into why Wall attacked the woman and her grandson is ongoing. At this point, detectives still believe their first interaction was the killings.
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“If it sounds like I’m angry, I am, because if somebody would have gotten involved and called us on the phone,” Bradshaw said.
Bradshaw said this should have been prevented, but no one in Wall’s life spoke up about Wall’s behavior and threats he made online.
“He’s on Facebook. He has said, ‘I want to kill people and children,’” Bradshaw said. “He’s got friends. Obviously they saw that. His ex-wife said he’s been acting strange. He thinks he’s being followed. He’s paranoid. You think a damn soul told us about that? No.”
Bradshaw said Wall also walked into the Publix more than two hours before the murders Thursday but that a uniformed deputy was inside and so Wall left.
Court records show that Wall had declared bankruptcy earlier this year. He had $6,000 in assets compared to $215,000 in debts, according to bankruptcy records. Most of the money is owed to his ex-wife, who divorced him in 2018.
Public records also show that Wall used to co-own a cleaning business that years ago had office space in the same shopping center as the Publix.
Brian Heinrich lives next door to Wall’s ex-wife, only minutes away from the Publix in Royal Palm Beach.
He says Wall hasn’t lived there in a few years but that he never would have expected this.
“When we heard this morning what happened we were pretty surprised because the last time we talked to them they seemed very nice and pleasant and pretty normal,” Heinrich said. “You really never know anyone really, so sometimes people just snap.”
Flowers and stuffed animals lay Friday outside the supermarket as the community remained shocked and saddened by the murder-suicide.
“You can’t make sense of it,” said Debra Dajka, who lives nearby.
On Friday morning, shoppers returned to the Publix to retrieve items left behind when they scrambled to leave after gunfire rang out near the produce section shortly before noon Thursday.
“It’s awful. It’s our local Publix and it’s scary. Very sad,” said Pam Taplan, who came Friday to pick up her friend’s purse.
Taplan said her friend dropped her purse and phone and ran out of the store when she heard three gunshots.
Anay Hernandez left a teddy bear at the makeshift memorial outside the Publix on Friday.
“I always come with my daughter here, so right now it doesn’t feel safe anywhere,” she said.
The supermarket reopened at 7 a.m. Saturday.
“I don’t believe someone has the right to take a child’s life,” another woman outside the store said Friday. “That really impacts me.”
Investigators continue to work to connect the dots on why Wall, of Royal Palm Beach, allegedly targeted a young child and his grandmother.
“We are trying to determine what led up to the shooting,” Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Teri Barbera said.