OLD BRIDGE Three people are dead after an employee at the Old Bridge Pathmark armed with an AK-47 assault rifle and an automatic pistol opened fire inside the store early this morning, killing two young store workers before turning one of the weapons on himself, Middlesex County Prosecutor Bruce Kaplan said.
The two victims, an 18-year-old woman and a 24-year-old man, were both from the township, Kaplan said.
The 18-year-old victim, Cristina LoBrutto, was a recent graduate of Old Bridge High School, where the superintendent described her as a bright student, active as a horn player in the music department. The other victim was Bryan Breen, 24, from the Laurence Harbor section of Old Bridge. He graduated from Old Bridge High School in 2006.
Neighbors and a law enforcement source identified the shooter as Terence Tyler, 23, a former Marine.
Accounts of the shooting paint a portrait of an employee who smashed into the front of the store, and then began aiming at coworkers while some of them managed to escape out the back of the supermarket, said Dragan Jovanovic, general manager of the Staples next to Pathmark.
About 7 a.m. Jovanovic couldn't get into the parking lot so he went into a nearby McDonald's. There, he found a shaken Pathmark employee who described the beginning of the rampage and how he escaped the shooter.
The employee told Jovanovic that the gunman threw a shopping cart through a front store window, and then started shooting.
"He heard a 'loud bang,' then he ran out the back door," Jovanovic said the employee told him.
Jovanovic said the employee appeared traumatized by the eruption of violence around him, and in a familiar place.
"He knew all the employees, he knew the shooter, he knew all the people that got killed," Jovanovic said.
Jovanovic admitted he himself was shocked by the shooting, but added, "This could happen anywhere."
Terence S. Tyler served less than two years in the military, and never went overseas, according to Capt. Kendra Motz, a Marine spokeswoman.
His home was Brooklyn when he entered the Marines on March 24, 2008 and his primary place of service was Twentynine Palms in California, home of the Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command, Motz added.
His specialty classification in the Marines was "0311 - Rifleman" or the general infantry, Motz added.
He received the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and the National Defense Service Medal, Motz added.
He was discharged on Feb. 27, 2010. The Marines do not comment on whether personnel are honorable or dishonorably discharged, Motz added.
Tyler is said to have lived at the nearby London Terrace apartment complex, directly behind the store.
The gunman had apparently finished his shift, but returned about 3:30 a.m. armed with the weapons and multiple magazines. He started firing randomly, hitting the two employees, Kaplan said.
All three of the dead were assigned to the overnight shift at the store, on Route 9 near the Sayreville border.
"I don't believe they were specifically targeted. I believe everyone was targeted," Kaplan said.
This morning Breen's family gathered in the backyard of their home consoling one another.
June Launay lives next door to the Breen family and her son graduated from Old Bridge High School at the same time as Bryan.
"He was a really nice kid. He's always been polite. He's always been friendly and outgoing," Launay said, fighting back tears. "He's just a normal kid. He wasn't a kid you ever worried about. We're all shaken up over here."
Old Bridge police have parked a patrol car several houses away from LoBrutto's home. They asked reporters to stay back at the family's request. The family will make a statement when they are ready, the officers said.
Two women standing nearby were hugging and consoling each other, then quickly got into cars and drove away.
A 32-year-old neighbor who declined to give her name said she last saw LoBrutto three days ago washing her brand new car, a Nissan. The recent Old Bridge High School graduate was college-bound, although it wasn't clear where. She got the job and was "just looking to pay for some girlie things."
"She was very friendly, very family oriented," said the female neighbor, who used to babysit the victim and her younger sister. "She had a lot of friends."
"Her parents lived for her and her sister," she said. "They are a very tight-knit family."
Seven people appearing to be in their late teens and early 20s walked up the block at 12:50 pm and asked a police officer if they could visit the family. The officer said he would ask. Minutes later, they appeared to enter the home. They declined to speak to a reporter on the scene.
"This is a real tragedy," said Old Bridge Superintendent Timothy Brennan. "Cristina LoBrutto was a member of the class of 2012 and she has siblings in the district at the secondary and middle school levels."
Brennan said LoBrutto was a bright student who was active in the school's music department, playing in the horns section of multiple bands.
Miranda Miranda, 19, was scheduled to work the morning shift at Pathmark today. But after she got another job, LoBrutto took her shift.
This morning, at the nearby London Terrace Apartment complex, Miranda was shaken.
"What keeps coming into my mind is that it could have been me," Miranda said.
Miranda said she knew both victims and had met the shooter, who only began working at the supermarket earlier this month.
Right away, she said the ex-Marine made her uneasy.
"The way he looked at me, that gave me a very bad feeling," she said. "He gave me an uneasy vibe."
Old Bridge, Sayreville and Perth Amboy police were quickly on scene, Kaplan said, but all three were already dead when officers arrived.
An assistant manager inside the store got 10 to 12 other store employees out quickly, said John Niccollai, the president of Local 464A of the United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents some store workers.
"He immediately got them out the back door," Niccollai said. "Who knows what could have happened if not for some quick thinking?"
A nearby resident, Jitender Yadv, was walking through the complex about 6 a.m. when he saw police questioning relatives of the suspected gunman outside an apartment in building 3.
"They were questioning three people. I think his parents and a cousin," Yadv said. "They picked up a lot of items and put them in police cars."
The suspected gunman had lived in the complex for about a month, other residents said.
A police officer was stationed outside the apartment this morning.
Manase Acheampong, 25, of Old Bridge, said Tyler was the cousin of a friend of his and that he had recently moved to the township from Brooklyn.
"He was a normal kid," Acheampong said. "We had drinks. He never got into a fight or started one. I would never have guessed."
A Pathmark spokeswoman said company representatives were assisting authorities in their investigation.
"We express our deepest sympathies to the families of the victims and our appreciation to local law enforcement," the spokeswoman, Marcy Connor said. "Our main concern is the safety of our associates and customers."
Police this morning had escorted a number of store employees and brought them to chairs outside the nearby TGIF restaurant along.
The adjacent Old Bridge Park & Ride, which was closed earlier while police investigated, has reopened. Buses are again stopping there, but the parking lots on the northbound side of Route 9 remain closed.
Caroline Anders, who knew LoBrutto, said the young woman recently started working at Pathmark.
"She has a heart of gold," said Anders of the woman. "She was just beginning her life. She always had a smile on her face and now some clown who is thrown away by society takes her life. Let's all just pray for all of them."
Staff writers Susan K. Livio, Tom Haydon, Jessica Calefati, Julia Terruso and Seth Augenstein and NJ.com staff writer Anthony G. Attrino contributed to this report.