'He just stared': Albany shooter 'didn’t say a word to anybody'

Authorities say the names of the deceased "will not be released until we have confirmed their identities and notified the families."

'He just stared': Albany shooter 'didn’t say a word to anybody'
Community members, including Toyota employees, in the area of a domestic violence shooting Thursday that took the life of a colleague. Ariel Nava Photo

Kevin Ball was in his office in Albany on Thursday morning when he got an alert from the Citizen app about an active shooter within 500 feet of his location.

When he walked outside, there was only one cop there, he told The Scanner in an interview Friday. But then, the cavalry came.

"Police started coming from everywhere, and ambulances and fire trucks," he said. "There were 10 ambulances here at one point."

By the end of the day, authorities would confirm that a woman had been killed at the nearby Toyota service center in "an act of domestic violence."

The man who killed her was also dead after Berkeley's first fatal police shooting since 2010. The Berkeley Scanner was the first news outlet to report the homicide.

Ball, executive VP at Pacific Standard Service, a commercial kitchen repair company, said employees of the Toyota service center had taken refuge inside his business Thursday morning.

Both businesses are located on Eastshore Highway near the Albany Target.

The Toyota workers included several women who shared an office with the woman who was killed.

They said the shooter had first come into Toyota around 11 a.m. Thursday to give their coworker a drink from Starbucks.

"He didn’t say a word to anybody," one witness had said. "He just stared."

The man left but returned about 15 minutes later. That's when he shot the woman three times, killing her, witnesses said.

Emergency dispatches: 'Shots fired, suspect down'

Police in Albany outside the Toyota service center on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023. Ariel Nava Photo

According to authorities and emergency radio traffic reviewed by The Scanner, Berkeley police began getting calls about the Albany incident at about 11:15 a.m.

Early on, a dispatcher said there were reports of a gunshot victim at 1025 Eastshore and that the shooter was a young man who also "possibly shot himself."

"We do have a [gunshot] victim, unknown if there’s two. At least one," they said.

Berkeley dispatchers sent police and firefighters to the Toyota service center on Eastshore as "assistance," according to the emergency radio traffic.

Dispatchers also advised that they were struggling to reach Albany's 911 center because "all of their lines are compromised at this time."

All of the Toyota employees were evacuated and police shut down traffic on Eastshore, according to the radio traffic.

At one point, a dispatcher put out an emergency broadcast: "Break traffic. Break traffic," they said. "[We] do have information that the responsible with a gun is upstairs at the appointment center."

Witnesses told police that the shooter had a handgun.

Berkeley police quickly set up a "fast action" team to enter the building shortly before 11:30 a.m.

Ball said he saw officers approaching Toyota around that time.

"They were running around the side of the building and surrounding it," he said. He saw officers enter Toyota carrying rifles.

He heard 6-8 gunshots at about 11:30 a.m., he said.

The next emergency dispatches came quickly.

"Hold your fire," an officer said over the radio. "Shots fired, suspect down."

Officers next reported over the radio that they had someone at gunpoint and had detained him.

They called for medical units from the Berkeley Fire Department to enter the building.

Meanwhile, an officer confirmed over the radio that, according to Toyota, "everybody is accounted for other than the female."

Mixed messaging while critical incident unfolded

Police outside Toyota and the Albany Target shopping complex on Eastshore Highway on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023. Emilie Raguso/The Berkeley Scanner

Authorities have said that the names of the man and woman who were killed "will not be released until we have confirmed their identities and notified the families."

The Alameda County coroner's office confirmed Friday that the names could not be released due to a press hold.

In a prepared statement released late Thursday night, the Alameda County Sheriff's Office (ACSO) said Albany and Berkeley both got multiple 911 calls from people inside Toyota starting just before 11:15 a.m.

"Witnesses indicated that a man armed with a gun entered the business and shot a woman employed by the service center," said ACSO, which will oversee the police shooting aspect of the investigation.

The Alameda County DA's office, which has its own police shooting team, will do a concurrent investigation into what happened.

Berkeley police "were first on scene," ACSO wrote in the prepared statement. They went inside the Toyota building "searching for the shooter."

"BPD officers encountered the suspect on the second floor, and multiple BPD officers discharged their firearms," according to the statement.

Read more about the Albany shooting on The Scanner.

The ACSO statement differed from BPD's initial statement in two key ways.

In a press conference Thursday around 1 p.m., BPD said Albany police had "requested we respond for mutual aid" — not that both agencies independently received 911 calls and responded to them directly.

In the same press conference, Berkeley police spokeswoman Officer Jessica Perry said officers found the victim, "encountered a suspect and an exchange of gunfire occurred."

The later ACSO statement made no mention of an "exchange of gunfire," and there are some indications that, while the shooter was still alive and armed with a handgun when BPD got there, he may not have fired a round.

The Scanner has asked authorities for clarification but had not received it as of publication time.

In its prepared statement, the sheriff's office said only that "The details of that encounter are still under investigation."

We're looking for witnesses. Alert The Scanner if you were there.

A number of community members have asked why Berkeley police seemingly took charge Thursday given that the incident was in Albany.

The Berkeley Police Department is a much larger agency and many of its officers have extensive training in how to handle critical incidents such as active shooter calls.

But, as of Friday, it was not immediately clear how the initial decisions were made. The Scanner has asked for clarification and is now awaiting a response.

The Scanner has also requested all records related to Thursday's shooting, which should be released in the coming months according to California public record laws.

"A nice girl who said hi to everybody"

The general manager for Toyota of Berkeley, which runs the Albany service center, did not respond to a request for comment by email Friday.

No one answered the phone at the business Friday afternoon.

Ball, the Pacific Standard Service VP, said police seemed to have done "a pretty good job" managing the scene Thursday

He said Toyota employees, nearly 30 of them, spent about 90 minutes at Pacific Standard after the shooting.

At one point, a Toyota manager counted off the workers who were there.

"There was just one missing," Ball said.

Many of the Toyota employees were clearly upset as they waited for the situation to resolve. A group of women from the shared office were "really crying," he said.

They described their coworker as "a nice girl who said hi to everybody," Ball said.

The Albany Police Department will handle the homicide investigation related to her death.

Ball also noted that some Toyota employees had been unable to contact loved ones because they had fled the office without phones and purses, in fear for their lives.

One of the women had no shoes on when she ran out of the building.

Another was unable to call her boyfriend to tell him she was OK because his number was only stored in her phone, which she'd left in the office.

Communication at Albany Target posed challenges

Police block the main exit between Target and Toyota on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023. Emilie Raguso/TBS

Ball said that, while the situation Thursday seemed largely under control once police arrived, numerous Target customers tried to leave the area before it was deemed safe.

Officers "were yelling at people to turn around and people still wanted to drive through," Ball said.

Frustrated drivers insisted they had appointments or had to pick up their kids, he said.

"It was crazy," he said.

One Berkeley woman who tried to leave Target shortly before 11:30 a.m. said the situation was entirely unclear.

She said no one at Target had advised customers what was happening.

She said she tried to drive out of the parking lot's main entrance, and found it blocked, then followed other drivers behind Target as they looked for a back exit that wasn't there.

It was around that time that she got a Citizen alert about the active shooter situation at Toyota.

She ended up going back inside Target to seek safety and let employees know what was happening. None of the people she spoke to was aware of what was unfolding outside.

She thought the store would make some kind of advisory announcement to shelter in place after she showed them the Citizen alert, but it never happened.

"It’s like you're on your own," she told The Scanner. She also realized that the area was "a total chokepoint."

"You’ve got the highway on one side and a giant fence that you can’t scale on the other," she said. "You’re trapped."

In retrospect, she said, she thought retailers should be required to notify customers if they need to shelter in place due to a critical incident, and that she planned to alert local officials about how that failed to happen.

"Certainly don’t go wander up to ask the police what’s going on," she added. "That’s not a good use of anybody’s time."

"I’m not mad at the police. They contained the situation. They made sure nothing worse happened and that no one in the surrounding area got harmed," she said. "The lesson learned for the community is that we need to enhance communication so people can make their own safety decisions in a really timely fashion."

Find domestic violence support resources on the Alameda County website.