"He had a heart as big as the universe."
CALUMET CITY, Ill. (WLS) -- Police are now searching for several suspects who remain at large after a security guard was shot and killed inside the River Oaks Mall in south suburban Calumet City Wednesday.
Family identified the man killed as 57-year-old Norman Thomas, a father and grandfather they described as "full of life." They said they are absolutely heartbroken over the loss of a person they describe as their "Superman."
"He was such a good person, the sweetest nephew," his aunt Mamie David said.
"He was my gentle giant. Very loving, very caring," said his wife Syrall Coleman-Thomas.
"I am so proud of you. I am so proud of you," Angelique Thomas said she would tell her big brother, if she could. "He had a heart as big as the universe. You could take the whole universe and fit it in his heart. That's how much love he had for people."
The Army veteran loved his family and his job.
"He came all the way from Desert Storm, and never got injured or anything in the military. Then he comes here, and then he gets killed doing his job," David said.
"He protected in the military, and he always said, 'I am a protector. That's my job,'" said Coleman-Thomas.
He recently took a job as a security guard at a jewelry store at River Oaks Center.
Sources told ABC7 Chicago the shooting was carried out by a team of armed thieves that got away with jewelry.
A woman who said she witnessed the shooting told ABC7 there were three armed offenders and one had a long gun. She said Thomas did not draw his weapon and had his hands up when he was shot.
"He's given up, and you still do this. They need to turn themselves in, and somebody needs to turn them in," said Bishop Kenneth Coleman, brother-in-law.
"They took him away from us," David said. "They took something valuable away from us and he needs to be here with his kids and grandkids."
WATCH | Police update on River Oaks Mall shooting
Police responded to a report of shots fired at the mall around 12:15 p.m., Calumet City Police Chief Kevin Kolosh said in a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
The midday gunfire brought a swarm of police and sent mall employees and shoppers scrambling for safety.
Officials said about 20 Calumet City police officers were at an active shooter training session on mall property and responded quickly.
Kolosh said those officers found a male security guard with multiple gunshot wounds and immediately began performing life-saving measures until paramedics could arrive. A second male victim, who police said is 81, suffered a minor hand injury from broken glass and was treated on the scene.
As Thomas was rushed to a hospital, officers searched for multiple offenders. But after sweeping the mall for an hour, no one was arrested.
Thomas died at the hospital. He leaves behind four children, six grandchildren, and another grandchild who was on the way.
His family is heartbroken. They just spent the weekend together. He said goodbye to his mother who moved out of state. And now, the family has to get together again, only this time to bury the man they call the pillar of their family.
"He was always there for me. He was always trying to keep the family together," David said.
"Norman was just like my brother; it really hurt, it really hurt," said Willie Booker, Thomas' former brother-in-law.
A memorial service is planned for Thomas on Tuesday, Nov. 22, from 2:45 until 3 p.m. at Stroger Hospital.
Though police have declined to comment on a motive, sources tell ABC7 Chicago the store was targeted by thieves. Police said the suspects drove away and are currently not in custody.
Calumet City spokesman Sean Howard said there have been ongoing concerns about crime and security at the mall.
"We've been in constant talks about taking over this mall for a variety of reasons, but particularly for safety and security," Howard said. "There's just some measures that we've asked them to perform, and some of those measures have been met and some have not."
Other store owners said they've complained about issues, including drug dealing.
City officials said they will not allow the mall to reopen without meeting a list of their demands, including installing more cameras. The mall actually reopened for about an hour Thursday until police showed up to close it down again and usher shoppers out.
"We are going to be steadfast in our quest to take over this mall because these particular owners have not been very neighbor-friendly to our residents," Howard said.
A representative for the mall owners, Mason Asset Management and Namdar Realty Group, said in a written statement: "The safety and security of our merchants, employees, and patrons have always been our number one priority. Unfortunately, an alarming incident did occur in our mall yesterday, resulting in the death of a security guard. We are deeply saddened by the impact of the incident, and our hearts go out to the victims of this senseless act of violence. Our team is in cooperation with the Calumet City Police Department who is actively investigating the incident. As a result of the on-going investigation the mall will remain closed and is preparing to reopen tomorrow, Friday, November 18th with heightened security. As this is an active and ongoing investigation, no further information is available from our end at this time."
Despite that statement from mall ownership, Howard said the mall will remain closed until the investigation is completed and the suspects have been apprehended.