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UPDATED: Wal-Mart reopens after Sunday night gun threat, evacuation

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 t...

A Grand Forks police officer sets up a perimeter behind Wal-Mart on 32nd Ave. S. Sunday in Grand Forks. Photo by Tim Albrecht/Grand Forks Herald

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 at about 5:30 a.m. today.

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 on scene. 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. 

Police received the call from a Wal-Mart manager, while another Wal-Mart employee was speaking with the suspect on the telephone, Macki said. The manager relayed information as he learned it from the employee. 

The suspect reportedly told the 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. today.

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.  Meanwhile, those who had been evacuated and others who arrived on the scene, gathered outside. 
Britani Annable told the Herald she drove to the store after receiving a call from her boyfriend’s mother, who was inside the store. Annable received the call at about 9 p.m. from her soon-to-be mother-in-law, Dana Lee, who was inside with Annable’s 3-year-old son, Jordan, and another 3-year-old.

“She said someone is trying to shoot up Wal-Mart,” Annable’s boyfriend, Travis Lee, said.

Annable reported Dana Lee took the boys to the lawn and garden department after someone on the store’s loudspeaker directed people there. 


Several people, including some with lawn chairs, sat outside the perimeter to watch. Some had parked vehicles in parking lots at other stores surrounding Wal-Mart, including Grease Monkey. A few people told police they worked at Wal-Mart and wanted to know details of what was happening in the store. 

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, according to an autopsy report performed by UND’s Forensic and Autopsy Service. He had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.19 percent, more than twice the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

It is not yet known if Willis had other substances in his system at the time of the shooting. Police said June 4 the preliminary results of the autopsy were incomplete but were expected to be released in four to six weeks.

There are still few details on why Willis decided to open fire at Wal-Mart. 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.

Grand Forks Police Department is asking anyone with information about the incident, including the identity of the caller, to call the police department at (701) 787-8000.


Officers from the Grand Forks Sheriff’s Department, University of North Dakota, East Grand Forks and Crookston police departments Polk County Sheriff's Department, North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation, and Altru Ambulance responded to the incident. Additionally, the Cities Area Transit provided three buses to aid in the evacuation of employees and customers.

Reporters Brad Schlossman and Kevin Bonham and News Editor April Baumgarten contributed to this report.

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