A Southern California shoe store owner opened fire at two shoplifters, police said, but mistakenly shot a 9-year-old girl about to get her picture with a mall Easter Bunny. The store owner fled the state and was arrested in Nevada, authorities said Wednesday.
Marqel Cockrell, 20, was chasing the shoplifters out of the store Tuesday evening at the Mall of Victor Valley in the small city of Victorville when he “fired multiple shots at the shoplifters,” Victorville police said in a statement.
"Cockrell’s shots missed the shoplifters and instead hit the 9-year-old female victim,” the statement said.
The girl, identified by family members as Ava Chruniak, had been getting ready for pictures with the Easter Bunny in the mall when the shots were fired, said her grandmother, Robin Moraga-Saldarelli. The girl was left with three gunshot wounds, including two in her arm, Moraga-Saldarelli said.
One bullet fractured a bone.
“It’ll be awhile before the bone heals and then we will see the extent of the nerve damage, but she’s a trooper. She really is a tough little kid,” Moraga-Saldarelli told KNBC-TV.
Deputies responding to the reports of gunfire found Ava wounded at about 6:30 p.m., the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said.
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She was airlifted to a hospital in stable condition, officials said. The mall’s stores were locked down and customers sheltered inside as deputies searched for the shooter.
Cockrell, a co-owner of the shoe store Sole Addicts, was arrested in his car at about 9 p.m. in Clark County by the Nevada Highway Patrol, Victorville police said.
He was being held Wednesday for lack of $1 million bail at the Clark County Detention Center “on an extraditable warrant, for attempted murder,” Victorville police said. An extradition hearing was scheduled for Thursday and jail and court records did not indicate whether Cockrell had an attorney representing him who could comment on his behalf.
“I’m glad they caught him and he will definitely pay for this. I really hope they throw the book at him," Moraga-Saldarelli told KNBC-TV.
The mall was closed Tuesday after the shooting and reopened on Wednesday.