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Motive unclear in toy store shooting

November 29, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
Two men were shot to death at a Toys R Us store in Palm Desert.The shooting occurred at about 11:30 Friday morning.

Eyewitnesses told ABC7 that there was an argument that escalated into shooting.

"It sounded like an argument. And then when the argument seems to be escalating, I told my little boy to ... get out of the cart. That's when we heard shots fired," said Sarah, an eyewitness.

Authorities say it all started when two women began punching each other near the registers. Each woman was accompanied by a man. Those two men, officials say, pulled out a handgun and shot each other.

Riverside County sheriff's Sgt. Dennis Gutierrez said the fight was not over a toy and that handguns were found by the men's bodies. He refused to say whether the shooting was gang-related.

The victims were identified as Alejandro Moreno, 39, of Desert Hot Springs, and Juan Meza, 28, of Cathedral City. No one else was hurt.

Witnesses Scott and Joan Barrick said they were checking out of the store when the brawl began between two women, each with a man. The women were near the checkout area, but the Barricks did not think the women had purchases.

One woman suddenly started punching the other woman, who fought back as blood flowed from her nose, said Scott Barrick, 41. The man who was with the woman being punched pulled a gun halfway out of his pocket, then shoved it back in, he said.

"He pulled his gun right next to me. I turned to look for my wife, and she was already hiding," Scott Barrick said.

"I was scared," said Joan Barrick, 40. "I didn't want to die today. I really didn't want to die today, and I think that's what we were all thinking."

The other man pulled a gun and pointed it at the first man but forgot to cock it, Scott Barrick said. The first man tried to run but was blocked by the line of people, then ran back toward the store's electronics section as the other man fired his gun, he said.

The first man reached a dead-end in electronics, turned around and ran toward an exit, pulling his gun and firing back, Scott Barrick said.

"He went up to the cash register, he went to put his hand on the thing and he just went phoomp," he said, indicating the man fell.

He said he did not see what happened to the other man.

Dan Wilson was on the phone with his wife while she was in the store.

"She just called me in a panic and I could hear the gunshots and I just told her to hide. And she hid ... I told her to turn off her ringer and she hid and called me back. The second call was hard, it was like a goodbye call ... she was terrified," said Wilson.

Palm Desert Councilman Jim Ferguson said police told him two men with handguns shot and killed each other.

"I think the obvious question everyone has is who takes loaded weapons into a Toys "R" Us?" he said. "I doubt it was the casual holiday shopper."

Toys R Us officials issued a statement on Friday:
"We are outraged by the act of violence that occurred today in Palm Desert, California, and the fact that anyone would compromise the safety and security of our customers and employees. We are working closely with local law enforcement to determine the specific details of what occurred. Our understanding is that this act seems to have been the result of a personal dispute between two individuals. Therefore, it would be inaccurate to associate the events of today with Black Friday."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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