Dealer Rick Ford was about 15 minutes from his Nissan store in Greenville, Texas, on Tuesday evening when he got a shocking call from his general manager.
Just minutes earlier, about 15 to 20 customers and employees ran and dove for cover amid multiple gunshots during a two-minute shootout that left three people dead on the showroom floor.
No employees or customers were killed.
“In my 36 years in the business, this is the first time I’ve ever been involved in a situation like this,” Ford told Automotive News. “It was an absolute miracle that no innocent bystanders were hurt.”
But Ford, the CEO of RFJ Auto Partners Holdings Inc., the dealership group that owns the store, worries it will hurt business in the long term, especially in light of the massive local media coverage, he said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The video below, provided by Greenville police, contains graphic footage.
“It’s purely coincidence that this happened here. This could have happened at Starbucks or any other retail location,” said Ford. “We’re formulating how we’re going to communicate to our customers and the public at large to let them know that that’s the case.”
Ford wants customers to know that no dealership employees were involved in the shooting.
In the meantime, Nissan North America is helping Ford finish his month-end sales count and other business, even offering to help him find counselors for traumatized employees, he said.
RFJ, of Plano, Texas, owns 20 dealerships in the Southern U.S. as well as some locations in the Northwest. It ranks No. 36 on Automotive News‘ list of the top 150 dealership groups based in the U.S., with retail sales of 24,047 new vehicles in 2016.
For additional coverage of the tragedy at the Nissan store in Greenville, click here.
Tuesday afternoon, Ford said, two men entered Nissan of Greenville, about 50 miles northeast of Dallas. The two said they were federal law enforcement officers and were looking for a woman who had been in earlier to buy a car. They explained they expected her to return with a person who was a fugitive and they wanted to make an arrest there, Ford said.
“Obviously, we were under the impression that these are federal law enforcement officers. They showed some identification. Our guys are not trained to the point of being able to identify what’s real and what’s not,” Ford said.
The staff told the men they did not know when she would be back, but the men chose to wait a couple of hours. When she returned, she had a man with her. The men, who were bounty hunters, approached him and tried to handcuff him.
“It’s unclear, but a struggle broke out, and multiple gunshots were fired, and all three [men] died here on the showroom,” Ford said. A video was released showing the beginning of the incident.
To Ford’s horror, the showroom was full of customers and employees.
“It was a busy night,” he said. “The employees and customers, most of them all dropped to the floor, and some hid under their desk and took cover. I am looking at bullet holes in walls and glass. I don’t know how many shots were fired, but multiple shots in multiple directions.”
When the dust cleared, employees called 911, then called Ford. One employee went to the hospital for a minor neck injury and was released. Police investigated the scene until 2 a.m., with Ford there the whole time.
The next day, he stood in the closed store assessing the damage as a crime-scene cleanup company worked to sanitize the store.
There are crews there to repair 10 glass panels and showroom windows shattered from gunfire, he said. He will replace damaged furniture and destroyed computers, and fix bullet-riddled walls and two damaged vehicles. He had no estimate on the cost and plans to remain closed Thursday, possibly longer.
“We need to clean up. We want to make sure we provide our employees with available counseling if they desire to have that and give them time to process this situation and to make sure the dealership is safe and sanitized to be ready for it to open up,” said Ford.
He will pay all employees while the store is closed and is bracing for a hit to his bottom line.
“Not only did we lose sales yesterday, because there were customers in the showroom in the process of completing their sales,” said Ford. “Then, all the sales we had scheduled for today, which is typically one of our busiest days of the month, the last day of the month, we lost.”
The store typically sells 10 to 12 cars on the last day of the month, Ford said.
Ford will use email and social media to communicate with customers when the store reopens and is safe. Still, he laments:
“There’s no doubt it will have a negative impact. It was the lead story on all four of the local news channels.”
In the meantime, Ford said executives from Nissan have called him offering assistance.
“Obviously, this is the last day of the month, and it’s the last day to report sales and there are incentives, etc.,” Ford said. “They have offered to try to assist us in those things. They’ve offered to find counselors to talk to our employees.”
He already hired counselors. He also plans to bring in security experts to suggest how to guard against such an event in the future. The dealership’s only security cameras are in the finance & insurance office, which activate only when customers are closing a deal. He is considering expanding camera coverage.
Also, he said, the local police department told him fake law enforcement badges are now so realistic that police often can’t tell the difference. The police advised him, “If we have someone who represents themselves as law enforcement, we should call our local police department and they’ll come out to verify it for us,” Ford said. “Which is what we plan to do.”
Although Texas allows people to carry firearms, his store has signs prohibiting them in the dealership, he said. That won’t change. But Ford said he is aware the signs have little effect for those with criminal intent. “What can you do?”