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Confrontation at pretzel stand preceded fatal shooting at Westroads Mall

Confrontation at pretzel stand preceded fatal shooting at Westroads Mall

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People hug in the parking lot after a shooting at Westroads Mall on April 17. Trequez Swift, 21, was killed in the shooting, and Ja’Keya Veland, 22, was injured. Makhi Woolridge-Jones, 16, will stand trial on charges of first-degree murder and first-degree assault as well as two firearms charges in the shooting.

A man critically wounded was taken to a hospital, where he died. A woman in her 20s suffered a gunshot wound to her leg that was not life-threatening.

A 16-year-old shot four times inside Westroads Mall after a verbal confrontation in April, at one point standing over a wounded 21-year-old man who later died, an Omaha police detective testified.

Makhi Woolridge-Jones of Omaha will stand trial on first-degree murder, first-degree assault and two firearms charges, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Makhi Woolridge-Jones

M. Woolridge-Jones

Authorities have said the April 17 shooting, which caused panicked shoppers to flee, was gang-related.

Woolridge-Jones is accused of fatally shooting Trequez Swift and injuring 22-year-old Ja’Keya Veland after a confrontation just before noon at the Auntie Anne’s pretzel stand on the first floor of the mall.

Omaha Police Detective Matei Jackson, with the homicide unit, said he reviewed several angles of mall security video, from inside and outside the mall, to determine what occurred.

Brandon Woolridge-Jones

B. Woolridge-Jones

Woolridge-Jones, his 18-year-old brother Brandon Woolridge-Jones and a 13-year-old boy were standing in the pretzel shop line when Swift and his 21-year-old friend Marvell Piggie approached.

The two groups exchanged words, though security video didn’t capture the audio.

Swift, who was carrying a white bag from Champs with his newly purchased red Nike Air Force Ones inside, left with Piggie and headed toward Zales. Woolridge-Jones, his brother and the younger boy left the line and followed them, ending up in front of Old Navy and The Cookie Company.

The verbal confrontation continued, and Swift and Woolridge-Jones put their hands up and appeared to push each other, Jackson said.

Audio from security video recorded Woolridge-Jones saying, “Let’s go outside,” while Swift said, “Let’s just go to the bathroom.”

Swift twisted to put the white shopping bag on the ground, and as he turned back, Woolridge-Jones grabbed a gun, Jackson said. Swift ran toward JC Penney as Woolridge-Jones fired two shots — the muzzle flashes are captured on video, Jackson testified.

Swift took a couple of steps, then fell to the ground after being struck by gunfire. Woolridge-Jones stood over Swift, pointing the gun at him, but Swift kicked the gun or magazine out of his hand, Jackson said.

Trequez Swift

Swift

Swift again tried to flee toward JC Penney and crossed paths with Veland at the bottom of the escalators. Woolridge-Jones grabbed the gun or magazine from the floor and continued to follow, shooting another two times.

One bullet went through both of Veland’s ankles and lodged into her right calf. A future surgery will be required to remove the projectile, Jackson said.

Three other people were on the escalators and running away because of the gunfire.

Piggie took an ascending escalator and fired three shots toward Woolridge-Jones as he ran away, but authorities don’t believe the bullets struck anyone.

Piggie has been charged with possession of a firearm by a prohibited person and is being held in jail on $250,000 bail.

Swift tried to run back toward the Champs bag, Jackson said, but collapsed, and mall security tended to him.

Piggie and Veland, who arrived at the mall together, left through Dick’s Sporting Goods and got into the same vehicle. Veland then was dropped off at Immanuel Medical Center.

She later told police that she had separated from Piggie and her boyfriend but rejoined them at the pretzel stand and saw the verbal exchange.

Veland passed them in the hallway and heard Woolridge-Jones say, “Do you want to box, do you want to fight?” Jackson testified.

Brandon Woolridge-Jones grabbed the Champs bag as he fled the mall with his brother out the main entrance of Von Maur. He later provided the shoes to investigators and told them that his brother bought the shoes from Champs.

Brandon Woolridge-Jones was charged with one count of being an accessory to a felony.

Makhi Woolridge-Jones, who was arrested the next day, told investigators that he went to Westroads to buy shoes and that he shot Swift, whom he knew as “Juice from Facebook,” after the verbal exchange at the pretzel shop line. Woolridge-Jones said he thought Swift had a gun, but never saw him with a gun, Jackson testified.

No firearms were recovered in connection with the shooting, Jackson said.

Swift was pronounced dead about three hours later at Creighton University Medical Center-Bergan Mercy. He suffered two gunshot wounds — one to his lower left back which exited out his abdomen, perforating his intestines, and one to his left buttocks.

Prosecutor Brenda Beadle said the location of Swift’s bullet wounds says it all.

“I don’t think premeditation evidence gets any better than this,” Beadle said. “The defendant not only chases and stands over the victim, he shoots at him again after he’s stumbling.”

Woolridge-Jones’ public defender, Christine Mori, said the shooting occurred as a result of a sudden quarrel and that a second-degree murder or manslaughter charge was more fitting.


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