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Walmart shooting victims describe chaos, violence during Norristown trial

Two people shot by Keenan Jones during a mass shooting last summer took the stand Thursday morning.

Five people were shot inside the Walmart in Cheltenham Township on Aug. 14, 2018. Keenan Jones, 31, is accused of firing the shots.
Five people were shot inside the Walmart in Cheltenham Township on Aug. 14, 2018. Keenan Jones, 31, is accused of firing the shots.Read moreTim Tai / File Photograph

Kevin Richards didn’t say anything to the man in front of him at the checkout line in Walmart in August 2018. He didn’t have time. “Less than a second” passed between when the man, Keenan Jones, asked Richards what he was looking at and when Jones fired a bullet into his leg, Richards said Thursday.

Richards relayed that account to jurors in a Norristown courtroom as the trial for Jones, 31, continued with firsthand accounts of the chaos he caused. The Philadelphia native is charged with attempted murder for shooting Richards and four others inside the crowded store in Cheltenham Township.

“The defendant was argumentative, combative, a little distraught," Richards said. “I was in line to check out, trying to mind my own business.”

They made eye contact, Richards said, and then Jones grabbed a gun from his sister’s waistband. The sight of the gun sent Richards running, zigzagging through the aisles, unsure if he was being pursued.

It wasn’t until he was hiding in the stationery section with other frightened customers that he realized he had been shot through his right calf.

Prosecutors have said Jones acted out of a “cold-blooded attempt to murder” complete strangers. Jones’ attorney, Vanessa L. Bellino, has said the violent episode was the result of a psychotic break, one caused by untreated post-traumatic stress.

Later Thursday, jurors heard from two Philadelphia police officers who encountered Jones after he crashed into their parked vehicle near the scene. They described a prolonged fight to get him into custody, one that left both with injuries that have prevented them from returning to active duty.

While the motive behind the gunfire at the Walmart is unclear, those who came face-to-face with the gun-toting Jones in August 2018 say its results are painfully apparent.

Akiya Dash worked at that Walmart for 11 years, rising up the ranks to customer service manager. After being shot in the store, she now can’t set foot inside the store, she said Thursday. She can’t even leave her home without her family accompanying her.

Video played during the trial shows Jones running through the store, a black handgun pointed toward the ground. When he sees Dash, he raises the weapon and fires in her direction.

“I was hoping that he wasn’t going to shoot me,” Dash said through tears. “I didn’t think he would; I thought we were the same."

At the time, Dash, who is Muslim, was wearing her religious garb. She saw a spot on Jones’ forehead that she believed was a prostration mark.

Whatever similarities they had were irrelevant: Four bullets struck her, including one that severed an artery in her ankle and caused “substantial risk of death,” according to documents from the medical staff who treated her.

Bellino, Jones’ attorney, attempted to weaken Dash’s credibility by highlighting contradictions in her initial statements to police, inconsistencies that Dash attributed to the medicine she was given during her surgeries.

Testimony is expected to continue Friday.