Planet Princeton

Lawrence man killed in standoff at Panera in Princeton had financial troubles

Scott Mielentz, the 56-year-old gunman who was shot and killed after a standoff with police at the Panera in Princeton on Tuesday, described himself as a former U.S. Army Ranger who suffered from hallucinations, post traumatic stress disorder, neck and back problems, depression, and anxiety.

For more than 20 years, the East Brunswick High graduate worked as a computer technician, network systems administrator and technology consultant. Then in 2010, his herniated disc and other health problems became debilitating, and he was laid off. He held various temporary jobs, he said, but struggled to find permanent work and then applied for disability benefits in 2014. He later found work as a consultant.

He and his family lived on a beautiful stretch of Washington Crossing Road in Upper Makefield, Pa.,  but he later rented an apartment in Bucks County, and recently moved to Princeton Pike in Lawrenceville. The Upper Makefield home where he once lived just went on the market last week, according to real estate records.

Mielentz had a long history of financial troubles that followed him from Florida to Pennsylvania and then New Jersey. Recently he owed the Social Security Administration $29,000 because of a dispute about whether he properly notified the agency about his new jobs after he started receiving disability benefits. The federal agency was just one of more than two dozen debtors he owed money to in recent years, in addition to the Internal Revenue Service.

He also said he took oxycodone three times a day, morphine twice a day, the antipsychotic risperidone, and neutontin for his anxiety disorder. His wife said his depression and anxiety made it difficult for him to remember things. She also said he was almost always in pain, and could be unfriendly,  impatient or agitated. Sometime he disappeared inside himself or “freaked out,”  she said.

All of these details from Mielentz and his wife are from federal court records reviewed by Planet Princeton on Wednesday. According to the court documents, Mielentz filed for Chapter 7  bankruptcy twice — once in Florida in 2003 and again in Pennsylvania in 2016. He also was sued recently for failing to pay more than $5,400 in rent for an apartment in Bucks County, according to Pennsylvania court records.

Mielentz was $122,000 in debt, according to court records filed related to the 2016 bankruptcy. He owed more than $42,000 in students loans, more than $17,000 in credit card debt, almost $5,000 for a car loan, and several thousand dollars for medical bills. He also owed the Internal Revenue Service $6,800.

State authorities identified him as the Panera gunman on Wednesday afternoon, one day after the armed standoff at the Panera.

Mielentz entered the Panera with a handgun before 10:30 a.m. He did not take hostages. Panera patrons and employees fled the building after he pulled out a gun, and he was the only one left in the building. After a five-hour standoff, he was shot and killed by police, who had tried unsuccessfully to negotiate with him. He died at the scene.

Other details about the shooting have not been released by officials. The New Jersey Attorney General’s Shooting Response Team is investigating the shooting, as it does all shooting involving police force, and is handling the release of all information. Officials have not said what happened in the moments before Mielentz was shot, or whether the officer or officers involved in the shooting were local police officers or state troopers.

As residents wait for details about what happened at the Panera, wonder about Mielentz’s motive, and seek answers about how the last minutes of the standoff unfolded, the eatery remains closed, a front window with a bullet hole remains, and a large sign is posted outside that says “Now Hiring.”

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

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