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'Life could just end at any moment' | Woman inside community center during shooting hid in a closet

5 On Your Side spoke to a woman who was inside at the time of the shooting

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. — An investigation is underway into a shooting that happened at a community center in St. Louis County Monday night.

Police responded to the Maryland Heights Community Center around 8:10 p.m.

An officer already was in the parking lot of the community center responding to an unrelated call when a woman alerted him that there was a man with a gun inside, Maryland Heights Police Chief Bill Carson said.

The officer went into the community center to confront the gunman. Carson said the gunman started shooting at the officer and that’s when the officer returned fire. The wounded gunman was transported to a hospital. The officer was not injured.

Police said the gunman shot and killed a woman inside the community center before the officer entered the building.

In a Tuesday morning press conference, Chief Carson identified the woman as 45-year-old Maria Lucas. She was a city employee and was the on-duty supervisor at the time of the shooting.

Carson credited the quick and fearless actions of the police officer. He said the officer did not hesitate to run into the building alone and that he was confronted by the gunman almost as soon as he walked through the front doors.

"The actions of our police officer were actually very heroic. He was notified that there had been a shooting, there was a man with a gun inside the community center. He immediately went inside the community center and confronted the gunman, and shots were exchanged," Carson said.

He also said that the incident was caught on surveillance cameras.

The City of Maryland Heights government Facebook page posted that the community center will remain closed until further notice.

5 On Your Side spoke to a woman who was inside at the time of the shooting. She said she has been going to the gym inside the community center since August 2019.

“I was just working out like regular, on the treadmill – listening to music. And all the sudden I heard a loud bang, it was so loud that I could even hear it through my headphones,” Sasha Kondratyeva said.  

She said everyone turned their heads toward the stairwell, near the main lobby and then everyone went to go see what was going on.

She said she saw a man with a pistol in his left hand and all of the people at the front desk were behind the desk. The workers told them to get off the stairwell and get out of the way, she said.

Two minutes later, five or six gunshots went off and that’s when everyone started to run and scream.

“We went into one of the fitness rooms that had a utility closet, about 20 people came in there,” Kondratyeva said. “It was dark in there, people were panicking… We didn’t know what was happening, we didn’t know if he [the gunman] was coming up there.”

Kondratyeva said they all just stayed quiet and continued to check their phones for updates. She said she believes one of the people who worked there was in the closet with her group. He told them to keep quiet and turn the brightness on their phones down.

They were in the closet for about 30 to 40 minutes until police came in to clear them out.

She said she was texting her family and her boyfriend while she was hiding.   

“I basically just told them ‘I love you,’ if anything happens to me – I didn’t know what else to say,” Kondratyeva said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen. At that point in my life, I was like, this is it, this could be it for me. So, I basically just texted and called the people that were closest to me. That kind of stuff makes you realize, like, wow, life could just end at any moment. “

Press conference from Monday night

RELATED: ‘Very heroic’: Officer stops gunman suspected of killing woman inside Maryland Heights Community Center

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