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'We all stayed quiet and prayed'

Man charged after opening fire at Maryland Heights Community Center, killing co-worker

Maria Lucas was a 7-year city employee and the supervisor in charge at time of shooting

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MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. (KMOV.com) -- The man at the Maryland Heights Community Center who police said exchanged gunfire with a police officer after killing a woman has been charged.

Michael Honkomp, 30, is charged with first-degree murder, armed criminal action, assault and resisting arrest.

Michael Joseph Honkomp

Police provided this driver's license photo along with the charges in the Feb. 24 incident.

Chief Bill Carson said Honkomp confronted 45-year-old Maria Lucas at the front desk of the community center after being sent home from work and shot her in the head. He then paced around the reception area with a gun in his hand. 

"We don't know his intentions after the shooting," Carson said. 

Maria Lucas

Chief Bill Carson said the shooter confronted 45-year-old Maria Lucas at the front desk of the community center after being sent home from work and shot her in the head.

A woman then ran outside of the community center and found a Maryland Heights police officer who was in the parking lot. Carson said the officer was in full uniform and had been at the center earlier filling out a police report since the community center is a substation. 

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Carson said Honkomp opened fire the second the officer entered the building and the officer returned fire, hitting the suspect multiple times. The officer was not injured. 

Authorities said Honkomp did not immediately go down, and he and the officer continued to exchange gunfire until Honkomp was incapacitated.  

"I believe the action of our police officer was quite heroic. He immediately went inside the community center and confronted the gunman," Carson said.

The shooting happened just before 8:15 p.m. Monday. There were around 150 people inside the community center at the time of the shooting.

Honkomp was taken to the hospital with serious injuries.

Lucas was pronounced dead on scene when firefighters arrived.

Carson said the shooting was captured on surveillance video and that detectives were going through the video. The city of Maryland Heights said the community center would be closed until further notice.

The Maryland Heights Community Center is at 2300 McKelvey Road, just off I-270.

What we know about the suspected shooter

Police said Honkomp, 30, is a part-time janitor who was upset over being sent home.

He worked for the city of Maryland Heights for three years. 

He is from Florissant, Mo.

What we know about Maria Lucas

Lucas was a city employee who was the on-duty supervisor at the community center at the time of the shooting.

The mayor of Maryland Heights, Mike Moeller, said the city would plan a public event to honor the life of Lucas calling her a valued and beloved employee at the community center. 

Maryland Heights Councilwoman Susan Taylor was devastated to hear that Lucas had been killed. 

"When I heard last night everyone would be grieving for I thought no. I thought no that special person is gone," Taylor said. 

Witnesses describe the scene

A witness told News 4 that she was at the facility when she heard gunshots. She said people ran to hide in a closet in the fitness center. 

"We heard about five to six shots go off and we all started running toward the closest fitness room and dispersed throughout the closets," a witness told News 4.

Sangie Pannl was inside near the ellipticals when he said he heard shooting sounds. 

"They asked us to go around and hide somewhere. The guy came inside and started shooting. I saw the exit and I came outside. But our friends are still inside," Pannl said.

[WATCH: Witness said he heard gun shots at Maryland Heights Community Center, ran out side door]

Tara Maryas was inside with her daughter when the shooting happened.

"We barricaded the doors and everybody said stay quiet, be quiet because we didn't know what to expect. We all stayed quiet and prayed," Maryas said. 

Her husband Dave showed up to the center knowing his wife and daughter were inside. 

"I tried to get to the door and we just had to wait. We were worried about it," Dave Maryas said, calling it the longest 40 minutes of his life.

[WATCH: Woman talks about barricading herself inside room during Maryland Heights shooting]

A lifeguard told News 4 that she saw the shooter and was able to get several people out of the building and to a nearby house. 

A man named Doug, who only wanted to use his first name, said about 30 people ran to his home screaming for help. 

"They were screaming saying please let me in. People just started walking through the front door. People with towels on their heads that came out of the pool. Some people had workout gear on. There were all kinds of people, adults and children," Doug said. "I felt like I was protecting them."

Editor's note: Previously the police source told News 4 that two people were dead, including the gunman. That source walked back that information. 

Maryland Heights Mayor Mike Moeller releases statement 

On behalf of our residents, first responders and employees, today we as a community mourn the tragic loss of Maria Lucas, a valued and beloved employee at our Community Center. I want to express our sincere sympathies to Maria’s family and friends for their loss. We are all saddened and are struggling to deal with this difficult situation.

The City is making grief counseling services available to our employees beginning today, and we plan to also offer these services to any patrons of the Community Center that may need help through this difficult time. We will make the schedule of these services available to the public in the very near future.

I want to thank and commend the bravery of our first responders and Community Center staff that worked to protect patrons at the Community Center at the time this incident took place and reduce the possibility of further loss. Our police officer showed selfless bravery and put the public’s safety above his own during this chaotic situation. The staff quickly moved everyone inside the building out of harm’s way until the threat had passed. First responders provided emergency medical care without regard for their safety, and police from Maryland Heights and neighboring agencies came together to provide a safe perimeter and help reunite families with their loved ones trapped in the building as quickly as possible.

Copyright 2020 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved

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