Case closed, but why did Willis fire shots in Wal-Mart?

Grand Forks Police closed their investigation Wednesday into May's deadly shooting at the southside Wal-Mart Supercenter, but questions still remain, including why a 21-year-old senior airman opened fire inside the store.

Grand Forks Police closed  their investigation  Wednesday into May’s deadly  shooting at the southside Wal-Mart Supercenter , but questions still remain, including why a  21-year-old senior airman opened fire inside the store .

  Friends told police they noticed nothing unusual about Marcell Travon Willis ’ behavior the night he walked into the Wal-Mart at 2551 S. 32nd St. wielding a  Smith & Wesson M&P 9 mm handgun , a firearm Willis legally purchased last November, according to a news release issued by the Grand Forks Police Department on Wednesday morning.

Willis, an active-duty airman at Grand Forks Air Force Base, entered the Wal-Mart shortly after 1 a.m. May 26 and  shot two Wal-Mart employees  -- killing one and injuring the other -- before shooting himself in the head.

Officers found “no apparent or obvious motive” behind the shooting after conducting a nearly two-month probe that produced nearly 300 pages of police reports, Grand Forks Police spokesman Lt. Derik Zimmel said. The motive has puzzled detectives from the beginning when, the very day of the shooting, Zimmel told reporters at a press conference there was “no apparent motive” at that time.

Police did not find any link between Willis, originally of Springfield, Tenn., and either the shooting victims or the Wal-Mart, the release said.


Willis’ friends, with whom he had been hanging out and drinking the night of the shooting, did not notice anything unusual about his behavior, according to the release.

Marcell Willis used this car to drive to Wal-Mart before he shot at employees. (Logan Werlinger/Grand Forks Herald)


“For everyone (detectives) talked to, the day was a normal day. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary,” said Zimmel, saying nothing happened to raise any alarm with Willis’ family or friends.

At the time of the autopsy, Willis had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.19 percent, more than double the legal limit of 0.08 percent, but no other drugs were found in his system, according to the release.

Nor did detectives find any indication Willis was being treated for a mental illness, Zimmel said.

Detectives also concluded Willis was the sole person responsible for the shooting. No criminal charges are being pursued in the case, and the case is considered inactive.

The only time Willis mentioned his intentions was in a Facebook post, published seconds before the shooting, saying, “RIP to me Love Yall,” according to police.


Other than that,  no one said they had any warning of Willis’ intentions , the release says.

Law enforcement investigate a shooting at Wal-Mart on Tuesday, May 26, 2015, in Grand Forks, N.D. (Logan Werlinger/The Herald)


The  two people who had driven with Willis  to the Wal-Mart -- but didn’t enter -- knew nothing of Willis’ intentions, police concluded.

Willis had told the two he was going to Wal-Mart to pick up a friend, according to the release.

One had just met Willis that evening, while the other had known Willis for a few years but had not spoken with him in months prior to that evening, according to police reports.

The witness who had just met Willis told police that the morning of the shooting, Willis had been very friendly when they were introduced, according to police reports.

The other witness told police  Willis acted normally that evening , according to police reports.


The Herald could not obtain the entire investigative file Wednesday because police clerks needed more time to redact personal information from the police reports.

The investigation for the shooting was conducted by officers with the Grand Forks Police Department, North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Air Force Office of Special Investigation.

Screengrab of Marcell Travon Willis, from surveillance video


VideoOn Wednesday, Grand Forks Police released eight video clips taken from Wal-Mart security cameras. Police did not release anything depicting the shooting nor any graphic images.

The videos show a gray sedan pulling up to Wal-Mart and, a minute later, Willis walking into frame. Willis had parked a gray Ford Fusion on the walkway just east of the grocery entrance to the store.

The videos then show Willis walking into the store, turning around just inside the entrance and leaving. The two people who had driven with Willis to Wal-Mart told police Willis returned to the car and seemed to retrieve his cellphone, according to police reports.

A minute or two later, Willis walks back into the store. Police say it was on his way back into the store that Willis wrote “RIP to me Love Yall” on his Facebook wall.


In one of the videos, Willis seems to be walking through the produce section with a gun raised in his left hand.

Willis fired a total of four rounds while in the store, according to police, who recovered all four shell casings.

Co-workers and friends of the victims in the Wal-Mart shooting gather outside the store. (Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald)


Willis first shot and seriously wounded  Lisa Braun , 47, and then fatally shot  Gregory Weiland , 70, police said.

Willis then shot at but missed a third Wal-Mart employee, instead hitting a freezer door, before ending his own life with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head, according to police.

Weiland was pronounced dead at the scene, while Braun and Willis both were taken to Altru Hospital. Willis died during surgery, while Braun was treated for her injuries.

Braun, an overnight general manager who worked at the south Wal-Mart since 2009, was released from the hospital several days after the incident. She declined to give the Herald an interview Wednesday.


Weiland, formerly a farmer from the Thief River Falls area, had worked at the store for nearly 25 years.

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