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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Mike Bedigan

‘We gave them refuge’: Ex-cop recounts kids rushing into his store to escape mass shooting at Arkansas supermarket


As gunfire opened at an Arkansas grocery store, several families looking to escape the carnage rushed into the store of retired cop Ken Van Der Zwalms around the corner.

“So we gave them refuge in the store – as a former police officer, I was armed. I told them that they were safe where they were. We kept the children safe, and waited till their family or somebody come to pick them up,” Van Der Zwalms told The Independent just hours after the shooting.

On Friday afternoon, a gunman opened fire at the Mad Butcher supermarket in Fordyce killing three and leaving six injured, including an officer. Police said they wounded the suspect and had him in custory after the shooting. The motive for the attack in the small town of 3,000 people about 70 miles south of Little Rock remains unknown.

Van Der Zwalm said that he had initially thought the gunfire was “somebody was throwing stuff in the dumpster.”

“I said, ‘well, that’s too much stuff going in the dumpster,’ so I got to listening, and it was actually rapid fire from a gun, because it was a deeper sound,” he said.

“I listened to it for a while, and then the news started coming out. People were running everywhere, and we had several people that ran to the store that were screaming and crying, and little children traumatized by what was going on.

Three people were killed and six were hurt in a shooting at a Fordyce, Arkansas, grocery store. A nearby owner recalled the moment gunfire began and families ran into his store for safety. (AP)

Van Der Zwalm, who lives in the nearby city of Warren, said that even as a former police officer, he had “never experienced [gunfire] like that.”

“It’s gonna mark those kids that we took in,” he told The Independent. “It’s gonna mark them for life because they were right there. They were at the scene.

“It’s gonna affect them for the rest of their lives. They definitely need prayers.”

Officers from multiple agencies, including highway, state and city police flooded the scene. There were also countless ambulances and helicopters to help evacuate the wounded.

Graphic footage shared online appeared to show a body lying in the parking lot of the supermarket.

Police have yet to release a motive in the Arkansas grocery store shooting and said the suspect was “critically wounded.” (AP)

Residents later described the incident as “a terrible day for our little town”. Charise Ellson said the shooting was a “horrific tragedy” as she thanked law enforcement for their quick response.

“To all our family and Facebook friends.. We are ok. Today was a terrible day for our little town of Fordyce Arkansas,” Ellson wrote on Facebook.

“Thank you so much to the police for their quick response to apprehend the assailant and keeping others in nearby stores safe.

“This is a small town and we personally know several people that were very nearby when the shooting took place. It’s just such a horrible thing that happened to people simply trying to grocery shop.”

Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders later praised the “heroic action” of law enforcement.

“I have been briefed on the tragic shooting in Fordyce, and I’m in constant contact with State Police at the scene,” she wrote on X.

“I am thankful to law enforcement and first responders for their quick and heroic action to save lives. My prayers are with the victims and all those impacted by this horrific incident.”

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