'Saving countless lives.' Armed bystander praised for intervening in mall shooting

·8 min read

Greenwood, Indiana leaders have used several titles to describe Elisjsha Dicken, the 22-year-old who intervened in a mass shooting at the Greenwood Park Mall on Sunday night.

A hero. A good Samaritan, even.

Gun-rights advocates have yet another: A good guy with a gun.

Elisjsha Dicken, 22, is being hailed as a hero for intervening in a mass shooting at Greenwood Park Mall on Sunday night.
Elisjsha Dicken, 22, is being hailed as a hero for intervening in a mass shooting at Greenwood Park Mall on Sunday night.

"I'm grateful a good guy with a gun was there to prevent further casualties and am praying for the families who lost loved ones in this senseless tragedy," said U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, a Republican who represents Fort Wayne and the northeast parts of the state, in a tweet Sunday night.

As happens with just about every mass shooting these days — of which there are plenty, including what appeared to be two in the Indianapolis area on Sunday — Americans were quick to respond to the news, depending on their views about guns.

Even when details about the mass shooting at Greenwood Park Mall were sparse, the moment served as a rallying cry for politicians and advocates who argue that law-abiding citizens with guns are an antidote to America’s spate of mass shootings.

They have long pointed to incidents where armed bystanders stepped in to stop active shooters, such as when volunteer security guards ended mass shootings at churches in Colorado in 2007 and Texas in 2019, or when a psychiatrist successfully defended himself and others in a Philadelphia hospital in 2014 by shooting and demobilizing the gunman.

Greenwood Park Mall shootingWhat we know

Sunday’s cry, though, came just hours after the news emerged that a Texas House committee noted that police officers failed to intervene to stop the massacre of children and teachers at Robb Elementary in Uvalde in May. All told, 376 police officers were present at the scene, the report found — or, as they were quickly criticized on social media — nearly 400 good guys with guns who failed to stop one bad guy.

But in Indiana? The armed bystander’s actions provided a sharp contrast.

He was a good guy with a gun. And, while three people were fatally shot and two others were injured, Dicken stopped the bad guy before he hurt more people.

Those views were galvanized on Monday as authorities began releasing more details about Dicken’s actions, which the Greenwood police chief described as both "proficient" and "tactically sound."

Armed bystander’s actions were 'nothing short of heroic'

Praising him as a hero, Greenwood Police Chief Jim Ison released Dicken’s name during a press conference on Monday afternoon. The chief also released more information about the victims and the alleged perpetrator, including a timeline.

At 5:56 p.m. Sunday, Ison said, the perpetrator exited a mall bathroom and, using a rifle, began firing at people in the food court.

Dicken, of Seymour, had been shopping at the mall with his girlfriend, Ison said.

Within two minutes of the gunman opening fire, Dicken drew his handgun and began firing at the perpetrator. The perpetrator attempted to retreat back to the bathroom, but collapsed to the ground.

The threat was over.

Emergency personnel gather after a shooting Sunday, July 17, 2022 at Greenwood Park Mall.
Emergency personnel gather after a shooting Sunday, July 17, 2022 at Greenwood Park Mall.

All told, the gunman fired 24 rounds, Ison said. Dicken fired 10.

IndyStar attempted to reach Dicken through a phone number associated with the man but did not hear back on Monday afternoon. Ison said Dicken was still processing what had occurred.

Ison said the mall’s surveillance video captured almost all of the exchange. During Monday’s press conference, he described some of what the video showed.

"I will say his actions were nothing short of heroic," Ison said. "He engaged the gunman from quite a distance with a handgun, was very proficient in that, very tactically sound, and as he moved to close in on the suspect he was also motioning for people to exit behind him."

Ison said Dicken is cooperating with the police investigation, and he noted that Dicken was lawfully carrying his handgun. Starting this month, Indiana no longer required a license to carry a handgun in public.

Indiana’s laws protect armed bystander

Among state gun laws, Indiana's contains some of the strongest language to enable people like Dicken to intervene in situations like the one in Greenwood.

Guy Relford, an Indiana attorney and firearms instructor who is a prominent voice on the state's gun laws, said Dicken’s actions appeared to be legal and justified under Indiana’s code. IndyStar interviewed Relford on Monday morning, later in the day the attorney announced he is now representing Dicken.

Indiana does not require someone to flee from the scene, for example, so long as the person meets a specific requirement defined in state law. The language, commonly called the Stand Your Ground provision, says a person does "not have a duty to retreat" if the person "reasonably believes that that force is necessary to prevent serious bodily injury to the person or a third person."

More:An armed bystander shot & killed the Greenwood mall shooting suspect. Did he break the law?

Put another way: It's not that Dicken needed to be a victim before firing his weapon. He was empowered to intervene on behalf of the people who were targeted by the shooter.

On top of that, Dicken would also be justified to use force to stop what’s called a “forcible felony." It's defined broadly as “a felony that involves the use or threat of force against a human being, or in which there is imminent danger of bodily injury to a human being."

"He checks all those boxes as perfectly as he possibly could," Relford told IndyStar.

And even though Greenwood Park Mall's policy bars customers from carrying weapons, Relford emphasized that it would not automatically be a crime if someone violates such a policy.

Greenwood Park Mall's no-weapons policy is akin to a "no shoes, no shirt, no service" sign you might see at a gas station. If a customer does not adhere to the policy, Relford said, a business owner can demand that the customer leaves. And if the customer ignores that demand, the customer is now trespassing, which is an Indiana crime.

"So the fact that (Greenwood Park Mall) had a no-gun policy creates no legal issue whatsoever for this gentleman," Relford said, "and it certainly has no effect whatsoever on his ability to use force to defend himself or to defend the other people in the mall."

Sunday's example is a rare circumstance

Even people who have argued for stronger gun restrictions acknowledged how Dicken likely prevented more deaths.

But they emphasized that while the good guy with a gun got the bad guy Sunday, it's a rare circumstance.

“I’m glad this guy was stopped," said Jody Madeira, an Indiana University law professor, "but these types of incidents make it very difficult for people who do this kind of work and research because you assume it’s way more common than it is."

Guns are much more likely to be used in crimes, to fall into the wrong hands, or to be accidentally discharged, Madeira said, than to be used to stop an active shooter.

As a recent example, Madeira pointed out there were two accidental firearm discharges within a few days of each other at the same mall where Sunday's mass shooting occurred. People were injured both times, according to media reports.

In another case several years ago, a child found a loaded handgun wedged into a sofa in IKEA in Fishers and fired it inside the furniture store. The owner of the gun sat down on a sofa and dropped the weapon without realizing it, police said.

"This worked out right yesterday in terms of what the good guy with a gun did," said Paul Helmke, a past president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and former Republican mayor of Fort Wayne. "What didn’t work out right yesterday is that a bad guy with a gun killed three people first. That’s always the catch."

There’s also a problem with the good vs. bad narrative, he said.

"The world really isn't divided into 'good guys' and 'bad guys.' We all have the potential to make mistakes, to get drunk, to get angry, to have road rage, and all those sorts of things," Helmke said.

And more guns in more places leads to more gun violence, he said.

"Even good guys with guns oftentimes make mistakes," Helmke said. "They leave the gun someplace, the gun is taken from them, the gun is stolen, they miss and hit a bystander, they become the first victim. That happens a lot more often than what happened yesterday."

‘Greenwood’s good Samaritan’

No matter where the political debate on guns heads next, Dicken is being hailed as a hero. Three people were fatally shot by the perpetrator, and two more people were injured, but it could have been worse.

Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers, who spoke at Monday’s press conference, praised Dicken for jumping to the rescue within minutes of the initial shooting.

He saved “countless lives,” Myers said.

"We're very thankful for a young 22-year-old man, who stopped this violent act. This young man, Greenwood's good Samaritan, acted within seconds, stopping the shooter and saving countless lives," Myers said. "Our city, our community and our state is grateful for his heroism in this situation."

Contact IndyStar investigative reporter Ryan Martin at ryan.martin@indystar.com or by phone, Signal or WhatsApp at 317-500-4897. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter: @ryanmartin.

Contact IndyStar reporter Tony Cook at 317-444-6081 or tony.cook@indystar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @IndyStarTony.

Contact IndyStar reporter Dayeon Eom at deom@indystar.com.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Elisjsha Dicken identified as man who killed Indiana mall shooter