A Richmond man’s private moment inside a Walmart restroom turned into a mortifying public spectacle when his small handgun fell out of his pocket as he pulled up his pants. It hit the floor and went off, causing panic and a swarm of police.

“I think the important [message] is for people to be self-aware of their firearms’ capabilities as well as limitations, and ensure they’re treating their firearms in a safe manner,” said Chesterfield police Lt. Brad Conner. “Even accidentally discharging a firearm has consequences, and they can potentially be severe consequences if somebody ends up shot or is killed.”

Two other customers were inside the store’s restroom at the time but were not struck by the gunfire, Conner said. The round went into a bathroom stall.

The gun’s owner, Clifford C. Shook Jr., 66—who police said had a concealed-carry permit—was charged with a misdemeanor count of reckless handling of a firearm.

Amid the panic that ensued after the firearm went off, drawing a large police presence, Shook left the store at the Chattanooga Plaza shopping center off Hull Street Road without notifying anyone about what happened, Conner said.

“It was video surveillance that we were able to capture from Walmart that helped point us in the right direction” as to who was involved, Conner said.

Investigators were then able to contact a person who was with Shook at the time, and that person encouraged Shook to come back to the store and talk with police about the incident, Conner said.

The two other customers inside the restroom when the gun discharged “helped us [learn] what happened, at least from their perspective—what they heard, what they saw,” Conner said.

Conner said the firearm was an older-style handgun with an exposed hammer. Because the case is still pending, Conner declined to provide the gun’s caliber but said it did not have a magazine, nor did it have cylinders like a revolver. But it was capable of firing more than one round.

“This particular gun had an exposed hammer and doesn’t have a whole lot of safety features built into it,” Conner explained. “The hammer has to hit the firing pin in order for it to fire. So in this case, there was nothing between the hammer and firing pin, so when that gun was dropped it went off.”

The incident prompted the store’s evacuation of customers and employees“I think Walmart started self-evacuating prior to law enforcement’s arrival, but once we arrived on scene we continued with the evacuation of the store,” Conner said. “Until we could confirm what happened, and that there was nobody in the store that was a threat or a danger, we don’t want anyone in the store. We want to be able to get everybody accounted for and make sure there are no injuries.”

Shook was released and is scheduled to appear Dec. 9 in Chesterfield General District Court.

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