COLUMBIA, Md. -- Violence erupted at a suburban mall in Columbia, Md., on Saturday morning, after a shooter emerged from among weekend shoppers. Police confirmed that three people were left dead, including one believed to be the shooter.
Howard County Police Chief Bill McMahon said the three were killed at an upper level store at The Mall in Columbia and that authorities are still working to unravel details of the shooting as well as to determine the identities of the victims. He said a motive for the shootings still is unclear.
"There are still a lot of details we need to confirm," McMahon said, adding that police are combing the mall for additional evidence but that police believe there are no additional shooters. "We have many, many people still in the mall who have secured themselves inside stores."
The mall, a suburban shopping center about 25 miles northeast of Washington went on lockdown after police received reports of an active shooter at about 11:15 a.m. Shoppers and employees huddled in stores after the sound of gunshots ripped through the mall's hallways on a cold morning.
Laura McKindles said she heard eight to 10 shots as she worked a travel timeshare booth on the second level overlooking the food court. At first she thought it was construction.
"People were yelling, 'Someone's got a gun,' " she said. "They were screaming."
McKindles ran across the corridor into a perfume store and hid in a back room for about 90 minutes until police told them it was safe to emerge. She was with three other workers from her stall and the store
"I was praying," she said. "I was thinking about my family, my dog." She had left her cellphone at the kiosk and couldn't call anyone to tell them she was okay until after she got out.
"I think this country is in a lot if trouble," said McKindles, who moved to Columbia from Cockeysville, Md., north of Baltimore, two months ago. "I mean, what possesses someone to, on a Saturday afternoon, in this cold, to come to a mall and shoot people? Why? I just can't understand what motivates that."
Police said that they have confirmed that one of the dead people was located near a gun and ammunition but that they have not yet identified the person nor provided ages, genders or any other information as they continue to investigate. McMahon said police did not fire any weapons during the incident.
Police said that the mall is "believed to be secure" but that those inside have been instructed to wait for further guidance from authorities.
Workers at stores in the mall said the building was on lockdown as of shortly after noon. An employee at Rafet's Hairmasters, who declined to be identified, said she heard the shooting had taken place near the mall's Sears store, which is adjacent to the food court.
At 12:30 p.m., police led frightened shoppers and workers out of the mall entrance at the food court. Many were without coats, and police and paramedics ushered those without cars, many shivering and some holding babies, into warm vans from Howard and Anne Arundel county fire departments. Some held hands and were crying.
Police officers guarded each entrance off Little Patuxent Parkway to keep people away from the nearly empty parking lots.
Solon Jimez was working at a beauty salon when he said he heard the gunshots. "We saw people running," he said. "It was very bad."
Candace Johnson was shopping in the mall's Forever 21 store when she heard a commotion, then saw 30 people "panicking and screaming and kind of running" toward her from the area of the food court and the Sears department store. The 24-year-old from Columbia said she immediately went to the back of the store and got down as employees pulled shut the gates.
"It's just kind of nerve-wracking," she said.
Johnson said she waited for about two hours, huddled with a dozen or so other customers and Forever 21 employees as they received periodic updates over the phone from mall security. She said police seemed to be clearing the mall store-by-store, starting with those businesses near the Sears on the ground level.
Lori Aratani and Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.