A woman was shot dead in St. Louis County, Missouri, inside a Catholic Supply store earlier this week after she refused a man’s advances, officials said.
Thomas Bruce, 53, forced three women into the back room of the supply store at gunpoint on Nov. 19 and told them to strip, detectives said, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper. Then, he sexually assaulted two of them.
He tried to coerce a third woman, 53-year-old Jamie Schmidt, but she refused. He then shot her, according to police, and she died in a nearby hospital.
Bruce was arrested on Nov. 21 following a two-day manhunt. He was charged with 17 counts, including first-degree murder and three counts of kidnapping, KMOV-TV reported. Officials also charged him with first-degree burglary, tampering with evidence, and armed criminal action.
Police said they don’t know why Bruce, who does not have a criminal record, targeted the religious supplies store.
“It seems to me that a guy like this saw an opportunity,” St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch told the Dispatch. “There were three women in the store alone.”
Bruce had no connections with the three women who were in the store, said McCulloch, who added that another customer was in the store when he first came inside. That person left before Bruce attacked the women.
“He left ostensibly to go get a credit card to come in and buy some stuff but, who knows why exactly, perhaps to go get his gun, but in any event came back in and fortunately another customer had just left the building or there would have been four people involved,” McCulloch said, reported the Dispatch.
McCulloch said prosecutors may seek the death penalty in the case due to the aggravating circumstances of the crime, CBS News reported.
“She was a great person. Very much kept the family together,” Jamie Schmidt’s sister-in-law Cathy Soulon told KMOV. “Just a perfect person. She was a housewife for many, many years. Then she finally started to get a job and get out in the social world and this happens. It’s mind-boggling. It just goes to show how messed up this world really is.”
Catholic Supply’s president, Dan Stutte, issued a statement about the incident.
“We are deeply relieved that an arrest has been made. Our sincere thanks to the St. Louis County Police for its dedication and excellent work,” the firm wrote on Twitter.
Bruce, according to a LinkedIn page, worked at a Jewish Community Center of Greater St. Louis. He was also a department manager at a Schnucks store. He was a Navy veteran—serving from 1983 until 1994, KMOV reported. The report says he volunteered as a pastor at a county jail.
Crystal Kempfer, a neighbor of Bruce, told Fox2 that she saw him on Tuesday afternoon as he was walking his dog. He didn’t seem any different despite being the subject of a manhunt. “I hope it’s not him,” she told the outlet. “I really do hope because he was the most friendliest neighbor. We talked on a daily basis.”