The Louisville bank shooter bought a gun despite struggles with mental health

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A series examining the AR-15, a weapon with a singular hold on a divided nation

Colt acquired the AR-15 patent and trademark from Armalite in 1959. The patent expired, leaving many companies to produce their own weapons, commonly called AR-style rifles. While Colt still holds the trademark, “AR-15” has become a ubiquitous term for a popular style of gas-operated, magazine-fed semiautomatic rifles. For this reason, we refer to the rifle broadly as the AR-15 in this series.

LOUISVILLE — About a year before Connor Sturgeon gunned down his co-workers at Old National Bank in April, some close to the 25-year-old knew he was having problems.

He had abruptly turned away from his companions during a family beach vacation and began walking into the ocean, later telling his parents he briefly considered drowning himself.

He had just started seeing a psychiatrist, and his parents thought his new medication might have been the cause of the suicidal thoughts. He had also experienced anxiety attacks at work, where some colleagues recall, he was falling short and frequently absent — a “no call, no show” employee, as one put it.

“He was in over his head,” said one colleague, Dana Mitchell, who had been a mentor to Sturgeon and was shot in the back during his attack.

But his parents say nobody in Sturgeon’s circle knew that on April 4, amid his struggles, he had purchased a gun. His psychiatrist, who had met virtually on April 6 with Sturgeon and his parents, had even indicated he was on the mend, Sturgeon’s parents recall.

“We had been led to believe he was over the hump and he was getting better,” his father, Todd Sturgeon, told The Washington Post. “We thought everything was okay.”

Then came the massacre.

On April 10, Sturgeon brought an AR-15 rifle into the downtown bank branch where he worked and began shooting — killing five and wounding eight before being shot and killed by a police officer.

While few details have emerged publicly about what motivated Sturgeon to kill, interviews with survivors, victims’ families and Sturgeon’s parents reveal frustration, sorrow and anger over how easy it had been for someone with apparent mental health problems to obtain a semiautomatic rifle built for mass violence. The interviews found that, six months after Sturgeon’s assault, those involved are struggling to understand why Sturgeon took aim at his co-workers and whether it could have been prevented.

Sturgeon’s personal and workplace difficulties, the extent of which have not been previously reported, point to a larger debate over whether the AR-15 and other similarly destructive weapons are too easy to get — particularly for troubled young men who gun industry critics say are often the targets of marketing campaigns built around masculinity, military imagery or sex appeal. The intersection of mental health and gun violence emerged as a flash point again after last week’s mass shootings in Maine, where the man suspected of killing 18 people had previously been hospitalized and received mental health treatment, according to a person familiar with the investigation.

In Louisville, a handful of Sturgeon’s surviving victims and family members of those killed said they are finalizing a lawsuit against Radical Firearms, the Texas company that produced the rifle Sturgeon used, an RF-15 that can be purchased for less than $400. They are planning to use the same legal strategy that resulted in a $73 million settlement between Remington and nine families of victims killed in the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

“I feel like nothing is going to change in regards to assault weapon control until it starts impacting the wallets and bank accounts of the gun manufacturers,” said Mitchell, vice president of treasury management at Old National Bank and one of the victims who say they will soon file the lawsuit.

Representatives for Radical Firearms declined requests for interviews and information. A spokesperson for the company told The Post via Instagram direct message, “You guys already cause enough issues in the world.”

In a country saturated with guns, including an industry estimate of at least 20 million AR-15s, the bank killings were not unique. Ninety-nine days into the calendar year, Sturgeon’s assault on Old National Bank was the 15th mass killing with a gun in the United States in 2023, according to data compiled by the Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University and analyzed by The Washington Post. The Post defines a mass killing with a gun as four or more dead, not including the shooter. Overall this year, there have been 35 mass killings, the database shows, including five with AR-15 or AR-15 style weapons. Since 2006, the data shows, there have been 25 mass killings with AR-15 or AR-15 style weapons.

In Kentucky, where a Republican-backed law declaring the state a “Second Amendment sanctuary” had coincidentally taken effect days before the shooting, Sturgeon faced no barriers to entry as a gun owner.

With no prior criminal record, he would have passed the federally required background check, in which dealers run a buyer’s name through an FBI database.

The state does not have a “red flag” law, a measure that has passed in other, less conservative states, in which people who are reported to be potentially dangerous are prevented from buying and possessing guns.

And even if such a law existed in Kentucky, it may not have stopped Sturgeon from buying the weapon. Neither of Sturgeon’s parents thought to seek a police intervention because they said they had no idea he had even considered buying a gun.

The Louisville Police Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said the investigation into the killings is ongoing. Both entities declined to release details about the case, including whether anyone close to Sturgeon was aware of his gun purchase or his intentions before April 10.

The Sturgeons aren’t backing specific legislative solutions. They wonder if the shooting could have been prevented by a law that would require gun buyers wait for a period of time between purchase and taking possession. But Sturgeon waited six days after buying the gun to use it — during which he spent a celebratory Easter weekend with his family and friends watching golf, they said.

“What matters is that he shouldn’t have had a freaking gun,” Todd Sturgeon said. “He shouldn’t have been able to get one.”

Struggling at work

When Connor Sturgeon first started working at Old National in 2021 after three summers as an intern, colleagues saw him as the picture of success.

He was handsome and well-spoken, graduating from the University of Alabama in December 2020 with a double major in finance and economics and an MS in finance in just four years.

“Some of us here were envious of him,” said one Old National employee, who, like some others, spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter. “He seemed to have everything going for him.”

Sturgeon was hired after graduation to be a commercial lender, a role typically held by more experienced bankers, according to several Old National employees.

Mitchell and three current Old National Bank employees said they believed Sturgeon got the job because he was the godson of Old National chief executive of commercial banking James “Jim” Sandgren. Mitchell and the employees said Sturgeon was “underqualified” for the job and ultimately failed the lending training program.

“That job is something people in banking work years to achieve,” Mitchell said.

Sandgren and Sturgeon’s parents did not respond to requests for comment on the circumstances of Connor’s employment. An Old National spokeswoman did not answer specific questions about the circumstances surrounding Sturgeon’s initial hiring or employment.

“While Old National does not publicly discuss or share personnel information, what we can say is that the horrific tragedy that occurred on April 10th of this year was a complete shock to everyone who knew Connor Sturgeon,” said the spokeswoman, Kathy A. Schoettlin. “Initially, Connor was hired as an Old National intern and, ultimately, became a full-time team member who was in good standing as an employee during his tenure with us.”

“The trauma of that day continues to affect everyone who was directly or indirectly involved,” Schoettlin added, “and the pain is deep and lasting.”

Mitchell said that, in response to Sturgeon’s struggles, the bank created a new position for Sturgeon with less responsibility. The role, according to Sturgeon’s LinkedIn, was syndications associate and portfolio banker.

It was during this period that Sturgeon started failing to show up for work, colleagues said, and when, according to his parents, he started having the panic attacks and considering suicide. The bank had plans to terminate Sturgeon’s employment, according to two people with knowledge of bank operations, a claim rebutted by Schoettlin.

“Before Old National, he succeeded at everything,” Mitchell said. “I really think all of us in that room that morning represented to him the one thing he wasn’t able to succeed at. We represented his failure.”

On April 4, more than a year after he had considered drowning himself during the 2022 beach vacation, Sturgeon bought the gun.

According to details of the police investigation provided to his parents, he purchased the Radical Firearms RF-15 from River City Firearms, a small gun store in an office complex near the Louisville airport. A representative of River City Firearms declined to comment.

The gun is gas-operated, with a magazine capable of holding up to 30 rounds of 5.56mm ammunition. Its instruction manual declares, “Radical Firearms shall not be responsible for injury, death, or damage to property resulting from either intentional or accidental discharge of this firearm.”

The attack

For the employees of Old National and their families, the morning of April 10 began like most others.

Tommy Elliott, a senior vice president, had just gotten dressed for work and said goodbye to his wife, Maryanne, in their bedroom.

“You’re so handsome,” Maryanne told him.

Around the same time, 64-year-old Jim Tutt Jr., also a senior vice president at the bank, emerged from the bedroom to find his wife, Karen Tutt, on his way out the door. He had recently lost 20 pounds.

“And he looked amazing,” Karen said. “I said, ‘You look really great. I’m so proud of you.’”

As employees gathered around a conference table to discuss business prospects and newly finalized deals at 8:30 a.m., Sturgeon walked inside the front doors in blue jeans and glasses, holding the AR-15. He was carrying it as a novice might, with the butt of the gun away from his shoulder. On his way to the conference room, he encountered co-worker Dallas Schwartz in a hallway, Schwartz recalled.

“It’s time to go,” she said he told her.

He fired a single round, striking her in both legs, she said. Schwartz crumbled to the ground. As Sturgeon walked past her toward the conference room, Schwartz crawled into a nearby restroom to hide, blood gushing from her legs.

Mitchell looked up from her seat at the conference room table to see Sturgeon approaching.

Sturgeon began firing at the meeting attendees just after 8:30 a.m., Mitchell said. She recalled falling to the floor as the glass walls shattered and rained shards on the men and women. Horrified colleagues attending the meeting virtually watched on their computer screens as Sturgeon emptied a magazine into the room, one bullet striking Mitchell in the back. Detectives later told a widow of one of the victims that the assault lasted 23 seconds.

Mitchell said she lay still as she could hear more gunshots outside the conference room. Two responding officers arrived and before either could get a shot off, Sturgeon shot one in the head, according to body-camera video released by the Louisville Metro Police Department. Another tumbled to find cover down a short flight of stairs and returned fire.

Splayed around Mitchell on the blood-soaked carpet, five colleagues lay dead or dying, Mitchell said. Deana Eckert, a 57-year-old executive administrative officer, cried out for mercy. She would later die of her wounds.

“I laid there and listened to Deana beg for her life,” Mitchell said. “She just begged and begged not to die, and that will never go away.”

At the threshold of the bank, an officer ended the fight, killing Sturgeon as the two traded gunfire across the shattered glass doorway, the police footage showed. Officers rushed in and began transporting victims to a nearby hospital.

Sturgeon shot one of the officers, 26-year-old Nick Wilt, who suffered a traumatic brain injury but survived, according to his family.

At the hospital, Maryanne Elliott and Karen Tutt learned that their husbands were killed. Given opportunities to see the bodies, both declined. They each said they chose those sunlit morning goodbyes as final memories.

Victims grasp for answers

In late June, more than 10 weeks after surviving the shooting by hiding in the bathroom, Schwartz met with detectives investigating the killings.

At her request, they shared with her surveillance camera footage and audio of the incident. Her biggest question: Why did the shooter do it?

“You will drive yourself crazy trying to rationalize irrational behavior,” she recalled a detective telling her, “but you will never fully understand why.”

Maryanne Elliott last saw her husband, Tommy, a senior vice president at Old National Bank, as he dressed for work on the morning he was shot and killed.

Today, Schwartz is on partial medical leave from the bank after undergoing two surgeries to repair her legs, including a vein bypass. She said she has difficulty walking for extended periods of time. She’s not sure how she’ll feel the day she rejoins her co-workers at the bank’s new location. When she visited the office for a celebration of her birthday this summer, she said she left with enhanced feelings of survivor’s guilt.

“It’s really good to be with my co-workers again, but it’s triggering,” Schwartz said. “Is that going to get better or will it always be that way?”

Karen Tutt and Maryanne Elliott have resisted the urge to move out of homes that now feel painfully empty. Elliott reorganized the furniture in a study that was once a cozy nook for companionship and reflection. At the center of the room, she keeps a bowl filled with dozens of the cards she received from friends of her husband, a central figure in local and state politics who counted Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear and the mayor of Louisville as friends.

“I was surprised by people that were close to me, us, him, who said they experienced their own trauma, their own feeling unsafe, their own feeling of vulnerability, their own loss of him in their life,” Maryanne Elliott said.

Karen Tutt looks at a family photo that includes her late husband, Jim Tutt Jr., a senior vice president at Old National Bank, at her home in Louisville.

Tutt created a memorial to her husband outside her bedroom, filling a bookshelf with pictures of him and tokens of his professional accomplishments. She describes her daily life as seeing the world through fogged glasses.

“You do small things because you really can’t see anything,” Tutt said. “My whole future was with my husband, my dreams were with my husband. Now that’s gone. And I don’t know who I am.”

One thing she’s sure of: Someone needs to be held responsible for this.

Preparing to sue

Tutt, Schwartz and Mitchell have joined a group of survivors and victims’ families who are planning to file suit against Radical Firearms.

Attorneys for the families — Tad Thomas of Louisville and a Chicago-based firm, Romanucci & Blandin — are hoping to follow in the footsteps of the groundbreaking lawsuit filed by Sandy Hook victims, who argued that Remington’s marketing violated Connecticut consumer law by appealing to troubled young males. Among them, the suit claimed, was the 20-year-old Sandy Hook gunman who wielded a Remington-made Bushmaster XM15 that he’d stolen from his mother.

Rather than go to trial, Remington agreed in 2022 to pay $73 million to the nine families who had sued.

Stafford, Tex.-based Radical Firearms arrived in the AR-15 marketplace the same year as the Sandy Hook shooting.

When calls for gun control by President Barack Obama and others in the aftermath of the shooting helped inspire a spike in AR-15 sales — leading to shortages of gun parts — the company developed a business plan that met the moment.

It produced guns quickly and cheaply by utilizing industry connections to cut out middle men positioned between metal foundries and gun manufacturers, said Steven Metcalf, a gunsmith and former Radical employee who helped found the company. Within a few years, Radical was offering online sales of the RF-15 and marketing the weapon in part by sharing pictures of it being held by a former Playboy model, according to a review of social media posts.

Cris Parsons, Radical’s former vice president of sales, said he believes gun manufacturers are doing more good than harm by providing millions of Americans with self-defense weapons.

“It’s heartbreaking that something like that happens,” Parsons said. “But the world is a s—-y place all the way around. A gun is a tool. They have mass stabbings in China and Japan. A sick person is a sick person, and they’re going to cause harm no matter what.”

China, a nation with strict gun-control laws and more than four times the population of the U.S., had fewer than 7,200 murders in 2020, the majority of them by stabbing, according to the annual United Nations Crime Trends Survey. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 20,958 people were killed in the U.S. using a gun in 2021.

In Louisville this September, at the former site of the bank, men replaced the glass front doors destroyed as Sturgeon shot at police. The flowers, messages and wooden memorial crosses that once adorned the steps in front of the bank are gone.

After watching Todd and Lisa Sturgeon describe their son’s mental health treatment in a television interview, Jeffrey Barrick, brother of victim Josh Barrick, said he doesn’t blame the Sturgeons for their son’s actions.

“I don’t know that I could have done anything different if that were my child,” he said.

Over the past six months, they have sought to bring attention to the role their son’s mental health issues might have played in his crime — but they have also tried to make clear their feelings of sorrow and sympathy for his victims and their families.

They sat for an emotional interview with NBC’s “Today Show” weeks after the shooting to discuss their son’s troubles, expressing a desire that sharing their experience might help others prevent future tragedies. And they say they hope to have his brain studied for evidence of permanent damage left by multiple concussions suffered during high school football.

Somehow, though, even before gun violence shattered her own family, news of mass shootings often prompted Lisa to think about the effect on the killer’s parents.

“Every single time, Lisa said the same thing,” Todd Sturgeon said. “That’s somebody’s baby.”

About this story

Reporting by Robert Klemko. Photography by Joshua Lott.

Design and development by Aadit Tambe and Anna Lefkowitz. Design editing by Madison Walls. Photo editing by Natalia Jiménez.

Editing by Peter Wallsten and Wendy Galietta. Additional editing by Phil Lueck.

Additional support from John Harden, Sarah Murray, Kyley Schultz, Brandon Carter and Megan Bridgeman.

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