Omar Enrique Santa-Perez, the 29-year-old shooter in Thursday’s deadly attack on the Fifth Third Bank Center in downtown Cincinnati, was a U.S. citizen born in Puerto Rico who amassed a record of minor offenses and appeared highly unstable.
But more than 24 hours after his shooting rampage police appear no closer to finding a motive.
Perez was described by his neighbors as a recluse who often looked angry. He twice filed lawsuits claiming a television station was spying on him.
He legally purchased the 9mm handgun used in the rampage, meaning he would have passed a background check, but he had no felonies on his record that would have stopped the sale — only misdemeanors.
Perez was carrying more than 200 rounds of ammunition in a briefcase slung over his shoulder, according to police. He dressed in business attire, slacks and a white button-down shirt, so as not to draw attention to himself as he entered the bank lobby and started shooting.
The three people killed were identified Friday as: Pruthviraj Kandepi, 25, a native of India and a consultant at the bank; 48-year-old Luis Felipe Calderon and 64-year-old construction worker Richard Newcomer.
Two other victims remain hospitalized with serious wounds, including Whitney Austin, 37, a Fifth Third Bank employee, who was shot 12 times but miraculously is expected to survive.
A look at Perez’s life raises red flags about his mental health, but whether that caused him to plan and carry out the attack remains an open question. The attack seemed well executed and would have resulted in dozens more people being killed if not for the fast action of Cincinnati police and the fact that Perez’s gun jammed.
Police Chief Eliot Isaac identified the heroic officers who quickly entered the office-complex through a breezeway and fired at Perez through a plate-glass window, killing him in the bank lobby after he’d fired 35 rounds from his 9mm handgun. The officers are Jennifer Chilton, Antonio Etter, Eric Kaminsky and Gregory Toyeas.
Perez had lived in Cincinnati since at least 2015, residing in South Carolina and Florida before that. He graduated from high school in Anderson, South Carolina, and had a rap sheet filled with minor crimes in South Carolina and Florida.
He was arrested for trespassing in Greenville County, South Carolina, on Oct. 1, 2014, after he had been fired from his factory job.
Police responded to the Confluence Watersport business on Mauldin Road. When they got there, Perez was lying on his back on the sidewalk in front of the business smoking a cigar, WYFF in Greenville reported.
Perez had been fired the night before and refused to leave.
The report said Perez appeared to be upset and disoriented and when police asked him questions he responded with rambling, nonsensical answers. He mumbled something about the war and the economy, but mostly talked about how he was upset at being fired.
Police asked him to leave and Perez said he would not and began to cry.
During the week before Perez was fired, his manager said he was throwing tools and was “not acting right,” the report said. The manager said he was afraid of what Perez might do.
Perez had been cited for possession of marijuana in Palm Beach, Florida, and disorderly conduct and resisting arrest in Coconut Creek, Florida.
An insight into his mental state is also reflected in a perplexing set of lawsuits he filed against two TV stations after moving to Ohio.
In 2017 and again in 2018, Perez filed lawsuits in the U.S. District Court for Southern Ohio against CNBC and NBC Universal alleging the media outlets were spying on his personal electronic devices and using the data to defame him on the air. Perez sought $5.1 million in damages for emotional distress and “character assassination,” WCPO reported.
In the first lawsuit, Perez claimed his cellphone and computer were hacked and “in a matter of four weeks (in spring 2017), ‘MSNBC’ created a character, grandeur a persona, unmasked and assassinated the character through its slanderous commentaries.”
After that suit was dismissed in June, he filed another one and said he was watching MSNBC when they began broadcasting information about him and intended to track him down, according to WCPO.
The stories were found to be 100 percent fabricated – neither company had aired any content about Perez – and his lawsuits were summarily dismissed without prejudice.
“Plaintiff’s pro se complaint is rambling, difficult to decipher, and borders on the delusional,” U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Karen L. Litkovitz wrote on June 26 of this year in recommending the suit be dismissed. “Plaintiff’s complaint provides no factual content or context from which the court may infer that the defendants violated plaintiff’s rights.”
Despite all these questionable activities by Perez, The Ohio Star has not learned of any documented mental-health assessments or diagnoses that would have prevented him from purchasing the handgun. No “universal background checks” — so often lobbied for by anti-gun Democrats — would have flagged him as a dangerous person unqualified for gun ownership. He used the most common handgun available to Americans, the 9mm, which almost nobody is proposing should be banned. Yet, Democrats continue to claim that “common sense gun laws” would stop most of the mass shootings in America.
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Anthony Accardi is a writer and reporter for The Ohio Star.