By Christine Byers,
Denise Hollinshed and Kim Bell St. Louis Post-Dispatch
ST. LOUIS COUNTY • A House Springs woman killed by a gunman at a Catholic Supply store in St. Louis County was active in her church choir and may have been at the store to buy supplies to make rosaries for fellow parishioners.
Police identified the woman killed as Jamie Schmidt, 53, a customer at the store where the gunman sexually assaulted at least one person before opening fire and then disappearing Monday afternoon.
“She was very simple, very modest, very quiet,” said Laura Sheldon, who knew Schmidt from St. Anthony of Padua. “If you ever needed help, she would be there. That’s just the way Jamie was.”
Her brother-in-law, speaking for the family, said they were devastated.
“This is just senseless and heartbreaking,” Tim Schmidt said. “We are hoping that this person doesn’t hurt anyone else and is brought to justice.”
Officers continued to search for the shooter more than 24 hours after the shooting, which was reported by a 911 call to police at 3:19 p.m. Monday. Police said they had no video of him inside the store at 14069 Manchester Road, and weren’t sure if he left on foot or in a vehicle.
Tuesday morning, police released a more detailed description of the killer they are hunting, saying he is a white man, about 40 to 50 years old, and 5 feet 7 inches to 5 feet 9 inches tall. He was wearing a black or gray “paperboy-style” cap, a navy Carhartt-style jacket, a red, white and black plaid shirt, glasses, and a brown belt with a red and blue square on the buckle.
At a news conference a few hours after the shooting, a police spokesman said investigators had “no idea” of a motive and that the man did not appear to know the victims. St. Louis County police Sgt. Shawn McGuire encouraged anyone with information or who saw anything suspicious to call police.
“We have a loose, armed gunman out there who’s already shot one person,” McGuire said.
A national alert sent out to other departments described the attack at the religious goods store as a sexual assault and murder case, and asked if police elsewhere knew of any cases with similar details.
Police urged anyone with information about the man or the shooting to call the St. Louis County Police Department at 636-529-8210 or CrimeStoppers at 1-866-371-8477.
Schmidt’s husband, Gregg Schmidt, was too distraught to talk Tuesday and asked his brother, Tim Schmidt, to speak on the family’s behalf.
“Our family is just devastated,” he said. “She was just a kind person. Never did anything to anyone. It’s a random tragedy. … It’s a reality no one wants to deal with.”
The family said in a statement that Jamie and Gregg Schmidt had been married since 1990 and had been high school sweethearts at Northwest High School. They had two adult children and one child who is still a student in high school.
“Our family is heartbroken as we try to accept and understand this terrible tragedy,” the statement said. “We ask for prayers for peace and that the killer is caught before he hurts anyone else.”
A GoFundMe account was set up to help raise money for funeral expenses. By late morning Wednesday, the fund had raised more than $15,000.
Jamie Schmidt worked at St. Louis Community College in Wildwood as a secretarial assistant in the office of the associate provost.
“Jamie was a well-respected and valued member of our staff,” a spokesman for the college said.
Friends say Schmidt was active in a church group that holds women’s retreats. She was also in the church choir, singing at Christmastime and every week at Mass, sometimes performing solos.
“Her voice was just beautiful,” said Sheldon, a friend and fellow parishioner there.
Schmidt also was artistic, helping refinish the Stations of the Cross artwork in the church and painting the Four Evangelists.
The church is reeling with the news.
“We’re just devastated,” Sheldon added. “I just couldn’t believe it when I found out.”
A remembrance Mass on Tuesday night drew dozens of people to the church. Gerri Barbeau, who was among them, said Jamie Schmidt was her longtime friend and fellow choir member. She said Schmidt was humble about her singing and artistic talents.
“The only thing that’s gotten me through this is that Jamie had such a beautiful voice that God needed her for the choir in heaven,” Barbeau said, choking back tears. “A lot of tragedy has happened all over, and you have to focus on the beautiful things.”
Sheldon said she believes that Schmidt went to the Catholic Supply store after work on Monday to buy supplies for an art project. Sheldon said Schmidt was crocheting rosaries for the women in the parish group and may have run out of materials to include in the project.
It was unclear whether security cameras caught the attacker at any point. There were no video cameras inside Catholic Supply, police said, and no video to release to the public as of Tuesday afternoon.
At the shopping plaza, no video surveillance cameras were visible on the exterior of many of the businesses.
Officers were first brought to the scene by a 911 caller who reported that the shooter went inside the store and ordered women inside to strip at gunpoint, and sexually assaulted several of them before shooting one of them in the head. McGuire said at least one sexual assault had occurred inside the store.
Police shut down most of the shopping plaza, in an unincorporated area of West County, on the north side of Manchester Road between Interstate 270 and Highway 141.McGuire said officers searched the area and weren’t sure if the man left on foot or in a vehicle.
Dan Stutte, Catholic Supply’s president, said in a statement Monday night: “We are shocked and saddened by the events that occurred at our West County location Monday afternoon. This was a senseless tragedy. Please join us as we pray for the victims and their families.”
In a statement from the archdiocese, Archbishop Robert Carlson said that prayers were being said for the victims. He urged the community to help find the culprit.
“Our hearts go out to the victims of this horrific tragedy at Catholic Supply,” the statement said.
Carlson asked all parishes to pray for the victims at all Masses this weekend.
The Catholic Supply store is one of three in the family-owned chain. The other two are on Highway K in O’Fallon, Mo., and on Chippewa Street in the St. Louis Hills neighborhood.
“Our Manchester location will be closed while the police investigation continues,” the company said in a Facebook post. “Our other retail locations will be closed for business on Tuesday to give our staff time to be with their families. We will reopen on Wednesday with additional security at each of our locations through the holiday season.”
Rachel Rice contributed to this report.
Rachel Rice of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.
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