Facing down an active shooter

Former police officer recalls confronting the Paddock Mall shooting suspect moments after the Dec. 23 fatal incident.

Cletus Gibbs, and his wife, Tiffany,

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Posted February 13, 2024 | By Andy Fillmore

Cletus Gibbs matter-of-factly talked about confronting an armed man who allegedly had just shot a man to death and wounded a woman bystander in the Paddock Mall two days before Christmas.

Gibbs, deputy with the State of Hawaii Department of Public Safety, came face to face on Dec. 23 with accused murderer Albert Shell Jr. just moments after Shell allegedly killed David Barron of Ocala, a local tattoo artist who friends described in published reports as a generous person and a good father. Shell is also accused of shooting a woman shopper, who was treated for a gunshot wound to her leg.

Gibbs, 45, his wife, Tiffany, 33, and children Cleapatra, 5, and Jakobi, 14, had just taken a break after shopping that afternoon for a Christmas gift for Tiffany’s father. The family decided to eat at Chick-fil-A and initially headed for the eatery on State Road 200 but instead remained at the mall food court.

They had taken seats at a table in the food court when Cletus got up to get a different flavor of sauce for his son. Cletus said he heard two shots and moved immediately toward the sounds after drawing his weapon, a 9mm Sig Sauer semi-automatic pistol, which he pointed safely downward.

“I heard the first shot and then the second shot and drew my weapon,” said Gibbs, a former State Police officer in Hawaii and sheriff’s deputy in El Paso, Texas who is also is a former Special Response Team member with active-shooter training. He now is an outreach specialist with the city of Ocala Office of Homelessness Prevention, where hes with homeless people in outdoor camps and on the streets.

Tiffany said she heard the first shot and “blacked out” as people began to rush through the food court in what she called a “flight-or-fight“ response. She is pregnant and due in March, and said she was “knocked flat on her face” and trampled by people fleeing the scene.

Tiffany, Cleapatra and Jakobi sought refuge in a woman’s restroom stall.

An Ocala Police Department arrest affidavit provides these details: Shell is seen on a store surveillance video just after 3:48 p.m. approaching Barron, 40, near the Chick-fil-A food outlet. Barron can be seen punching Shell and then running toward Macy’s.

There are three places on the video where Shell is seen confronting and allegedly shooting Barron as he chases the victim over about a 149-foot distance. Shell can be seen running about 49 feet toward Macy’s then returning to Barron and firing a third and final shot while Barron is lying on the ground, which renders Barron motionless. An eyewitness in a nearby mall store told authorities Barron “pleaded for his life” as he lay on the ground before being shot.

The arrest affidavit indicates seven gunshots are audible on the mall surveillance video.

Tiffany called Cletus on his cell phone as he looked for the shooter, which took his attention back to protecting his family. He had just encountered another man who had connections to law enforcement and who was also looking to contain the situation.

Cletus decided to loop away from the apparent location where the shots were fired so he could maintain cover and have a widerview of the area.

“(The man later identified as Shell) came jogging toward me with his hand (holding a firearm) at the front of his pants. I turned and (pointed) my weapon and hollered, ‘Freeze’ and it startled him. He dropped the gun to the ground,” he said.

The arrest affidavit states, “the Hawaii police officer is seen (in the video) engaging (the defendant) … (who) flees toward the J.C. Penney exit, dropping a firearm from his pants” which was secured by a “retired officer.”

Cletus stated in a later text, “(the first) contact (with the alleged shooter) was me seeing him running. (The defendant) was approximately 30 feet away from me. He didn’t speak or say anything, he just threw the weapon down and started to run.”

Immediately after the confrontation, Cletus ran back to check on his family.

The firearm recovered was an FN Five-seven semi-automatic pistol, which shoots 5.7x28mm rounds; shell casings of that caliber were found at three location where the victim was believed to have been shot, according to the arrest affidavit.

Shell was arrested Jan. 8 in southwest Marion County on charges of premeditated first-degree murder and attempted premeditated first-degree murder in connection with the shootings.

Ocala Police Chief Mike Balken commended the citizens who stepped forward to protect others after the murder.

“I am grateful for those brave citizens who confronted Albert Shell Jr. moments after he committed murder. I commend their courage and their commitment to public safety in the face of immediate danger,” Balken stated in an email.

Tiffany is a native of Ocala and a former basketball and track athlete at Trinity Catholic High School. Cletus, a native of Fort Lauderdale, met Tiffany when she attended Nova University, and the couple married in 2013.

Tiffany joined the Army in 2013 and has work was in logistics in locations including Korea, Oklahoma and Hawaii. She retired from the Army in 2015 as a staff sergeant and holds a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

Cletus holds a master’s degree in psychology from the University of Alabama. He considered a career path in social services at first and then leaned toward law enforcement and has served in Hawaii and in Texas.

Cletus Gibbs was with the State of Hawaii Department of Public Safety from 2018 to 2020 and in law enforcement in Texas from 2020 to 2022.

He lived in Ocala in 2015 and returned here in 2022 with Tiffany to make Ocala their family home.

Robin Ford, manager of the Office of Homelessness Prevention, said Cletus’ work performance is “excellent.”

“I’m here to help, to assist” the homeless, Cletus said.

Cletus later was able to positively identify Shell as the alleged shooter. “Once I saw his picture on the television, I confirmed that he was indeed the Black male I saw with the handgun,” he wrote.

Cletus said he’d do the same thing again but with one difference in light of Shell’s escape and his time at large.

“I would apprehend him next time,” he said.

The Ocala Police Department provided information from the Department of Homeland Security about what to do in an active shooter situation in a populated area:

Active Shooter – How to Respond (dhs.gov)

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