Masked gunman dies after being shot during nightclub rampage

Here’s the whole story, about what occurred at the Mystic Gentlemen’s Club on Saturday night …

The Mystic Gentlemen’s Club is cordoned off after a man opens fire, striking down the security guard who had just ejected him.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
A little after 8:00 p.m. on January 11, the party was just getting started at the Mystic Gentlemen’s Club, located at S.E. 99th Avenue and S.E. Stark Street, in the Gateway District of the Hazelwood neighborhood.

Both patrons and workers at the outer East Portland upscale strip club said they were surprised when 43-year-old Thomas Elliott Hjelmeland strode in and allegedly started making loud, untoward comments.

After being kicked out of the nightclub, the man came back through these doors, and opened fire.

One of the two bouncers on duty, 26-year-old Brian Thomas Rizzo, demanded that Hjelmeland leave the club and not return.

But, Hjelmeland didn’t follow that advice, and about 8:30 p.m., he returned wearing a Halloween face mask – brandishing a handgun – and shot Rizzo twice, witnesses said. Rizzo slumped to the floor.

It’s believed that bullet fragments from those shots grazed and wounded 31-year-old Gonzalo Zamora-Hernandez and 27-year-old Nichole Danielle Procter, both club patrons.

Another bouncer hired some two weeks before, 31-year-old Jonathan “Jon” Baer, an ex-GI, charged after Hjelmeland, pulled his concealed gun, and shot him before he got into the parking lot.

One of the four ambulances called to the scene departs for the hospital.

“We were waiting for a table at Olive Garden and having a smoke outside,” said Tiffany Anderson.

“I heard a ‘pop-pop’ sound coming from across the street, so I walked up the stairs to look,” Anderson told East Portland News as she and her friends exited the restaurant after their dinner. “Then there was a ‘bang-bang’ and I saw these guys run out of the club [northward] in the parking lot.”

Then, “surprisingly fast” Anderson added, “Cop cars and ambulances pulled up and around the door of the club. It was chaos.”

The Portland Police Bureau Mobile Command Center sets up in club’s parking lot, between SE Stark and Washington streets.

Officials didn’t reveal the names of those involved until later in the week, but Baer went on the air with KXL radio personality Lars Larson three days after the incident.

Baer said that he thought it was a joke at first.  By the time the second shot was fired, he turned and saw his friend, and fellow bouncer, Rizzo on the floor, and realized the situation was deadly serious.

“I guess my Army training kicked in,” Baer said. “I pulled my pistol and shot him twice before he got outside.”

While Baer has had a concealed weapons permit for about 18 months, he told Larson he never expected he’d have to pull his gun.

Officers compare notes, after talking to the many witnesses of the shooting.

Ambulances took the wounded off to hospital Emergency Departments. The two patrons were treated and released. Co-workers tell the media that Rizzo remains in a medically-induced coma, and is listed in critical condition.

A couple of days after the shooting, reporters talked with club DJ Ian Boynton.

“We’re planning a benefit concert for Rizzo; he’s been a friend and coworker at Mystic since it opened. He’s now fighting for his life,” Boynton said. “He’s a good dude, he’s there for you 100%.  He is one of the good guys, without a doubt.”

About Baer, Boynton commented, “He took matters into his own hands to save everyone else.”

An officer gives information to an investigator who just arrived at the scene.

On January 16, Portland Police Bureau Public Information Officer Sgt. Pete Simpson revealed, “The suspect in Saturday night’s shooting, 43-year-old Thomas Elliott Hjelmeland, died this afternoon at a Portland hospital.”

This is a Multnomah County Detention Center booking photo taken of 43-year-old Thomas Elliott Hjelmeland last year. MCDC booking photo

It wasn’t Hjelmeland’s first scrape with the law, a public records search revealed. He was found guilty of misusing tear gas last October, and was sentenced to take “anger management” classes.

Although Simpson stated in his most recent release, “No arrests have been made in this case, and there is still an ongoing investigation,” the future of the Mystic Gentlemen’s Club remains cloudy.

It’s uncertain if officials will allow this establishment to continue in operation.

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission and police have opened an investigation of the club. A man was shot and killed outside the establishment in 2012. [See our coverage of that story: CLICK HERE]

And, although witnesses said police officers praised Baer’s actions, and said police officers reportedly encouraged him to join the force, he was hired as an unarmed security guard for the club: But he was not licensed to carry a firearm on the job, a State official said.

A Multnomah County grand jury is reviewing the case to determine if Baer’s use of “deadly force” was justified under the circumstances.

© 2014 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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