‘It’s not a gun problem’: Family says Omaha Target shooting suspect struggled with mental health for years

6 News spoke to family members of Joey Jones, the man killed after entering Target with a rifle.
Published: Feb. 1, 2023 at 10:33 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 2, 2023 at 10:54 AM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The uncle of the 32-year-old man who brought a loaded semi-automatic rifle into a west Omaha Target store on Tuesday told 6 News that the man struggled with mental health for years, and his family tried to get him help.

Because Joseph Jones was in and out of mental health facilities for years, his family has wondered why he was still able to purchase guns.

“He was a good kid, he was a kind kid,” said Larry Derksen Jr., Jones’ uncle, in an interview with 6 News in the home he shared with his nephew, known to family as “Joey.”

Jones was killed Tuesday after firing several shots inside the Target store at 180th Street and West Center Road.

“I in no way, shape, or form think he had any intention of going into that store and hurting anybody,” Derksen said.

The community knows about Jones’ actions, but what they don’t know is his long history of mental health issues.

Derksen said Jones was a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic.

“It started about three years ago; he came to believe that the cartel was after him,” Derksen said.

On and off, Jones would pack up and drive to other states, eventually returning when he ran out of money. Derksen said Jones was having frequent episodes, and several times he purchased or came home with guns.

“The ground rules were: If you’re staying here, you can’t have a firearm,” Derksen said. “You have to do the right things: drugs, alcohol — see a doctor, get medication. He tried to do that for a while, but the voices don’t stop.”

His family did what they could to help. In one incident, Derksen said Jones demanded his gun back, and Derksen called the police.

“I said, ‘Hey my nephew is schizophrenic. He’s demanding his firearm; I’m not giving it back to him.’ They came here, and by law, they were required to actually give him back his firearm.”

After that, Jones left and was in and out of hospitals and facilities.

Several months ago, he drove to Kansas where he was arrested after lying on the interstate. Derksen said Jones believed that the cartel would kill his family if he didn’t commit suicide. He was then placed in another mental health facility.

“Time and time again, you know, me and his grandmother were trying to petition to them: ‘Hey, he needs some help.’ And all they can really do is put him in the hospital for three days, keep him for three days, and give medication,” Derksen said. “But when you’re in severe mental health distress and have a diagnosis like him, it wasn’t enough for him to get clear enough to make rational decisions.”

Derksen said he was out of town when Jones purchased the AR-15-style weapon four days before showing up at Target with it.

“We were not aware that he had a firearm,” Derksen said. “If we were, then we would’ve tried to take it from him or call law enforcement. But even at that, how can you purchase a firearm after being hospitalized repeatedly for being a paranoid schizophrenic?”

Derksen said American systems are broken, but they also don’t excuse Jones’ behavior.

In a message to the community, Derksen said he hopes people understand what Jones and their family have gone through.

“We hurt as a family for the pain inflicted on everyone who was in Target. We hurt for the law enforcement officer who had to make that choice. We apologize for what happened. We regret what happened and we believe the officer did what he had to do,” Derksen said. “I pray for the families that are hurting. I hope that you all understand that there’s a larger problem, there’s a mental health problem. It’s not a gun problem, in my opinion; it’s a mental health problem. Until we address that problem, we’re going to continue to see things like this happen.”