Police Reports Shed Light on Investigation Into Suburban Grocery Store Shooting

Newly released police reports shed light on why it took police nearly two weeks to bring charges in connection with a near tragedy in west suburban Northlake.

Two children came within inches of being shot, after a bullet tore through the wall of an office at a Northlake grocery store March 9, narrowly missing the pair before striking the ankle of an employee bagging groceries. But it would be twelve days before anyone would be charged, and police reports obtained by NBC5 Investigates reveal that investigators’ initial reaction was that no one should face arrest at all.

Video of the March 9 incident at Farmer’s Best Market, obtained through a Freedom of Information request by NBC5 and Telemundo Chicago, shows the bullet tearing through the wall, inches from the head of a 5-year-old boy and his 7-year-old sister, who was standing directly behind him.

“I felt angry because nobody asked if my son was fine,” says the children’s mother, Maria Urbano. “It’s really hideous to imagine what would have happened if that bullet had hit my son.”

Police say the incident occurred after store employee John Lulias, who is also a licensed security guard, brought a handgun to work and laid it on a counter in the office. A second employee, Luis Hernandez, picked the gun up and it went off. Both employees were eventually charged with reckless conduct, but not until 12 days after the incident. And police reports show that initially officers felt no one should be charged.

“It was determined that this was not a reckless discharge of a firearm,” the initial narrative stated, “but was in fact an accidental shooting with injury.”

Additionally, the reports reveal that a store employee texted a friend who was an off duty police officer within minutes of the incident. “We got a problem here,” he said.

The video shows that police responded rapidly, believing there might have been an active shooter in the store. But upon arrival, they were faced with a chaotic scene. The children had run to their mother, who had offered her apron as a tourniquet for the wounded employee. But none of the officers spoke to her, or the children, apparently unaware at that point of the close call when the bullet ripped through the office wall.

Urbano and the children left the store, virtually unnoticed, just seven minutes after the incident.

“I felt angry because nobody asked if my son was fine,” she said. “Nobody came to us to ask if he was ok, or scared.”

Eventually charges were brought after the video was shown to prosecutors. But four days later, the documents reveal that the chief learned no one had identified or spoken to the children’s mother. He took it upon himself to drive to a nearby Portillos, where she had been identified through the uniform she was wearing on the video. Nissen determined who she was with store management, and arranged to have her speak to a Spanish-speaking officer.

“Leaves a lump in your stomach,” the chief said. “It’s a shocking thing, and you just can’t help but feel sorry for that little child, and happy that he sees the next day.”

Store owner Nick Merikas told NBC5 his employees feel terrible about the incident, which he called “a lapse in judgment.” Merikas says Lulias had removed the clip from the gun, apparently unaware that there was still a round in the chamber.

Clearly shaken, he said he had not viewed the video, but was so horrified at what had happened that he ordered Lulias to no longer carry a gun in his store. He said he would soon post signs outside, warning that no guns are allowed anywhere on his premises.

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