BURLINGTON, Wash. – A search continued Saturday for the gunman who shot five people to death Friday night in a Burlington shopping mall, and investigators said they didn’t know who the gunman is, nor why he opened fire.
Four women were confirmed dead, State Patrol Sgt. Mark Francis said. A man who had been hospitalized died overnight, Francis said.
The victims’ identities were not been released.
The suspect was described as a Hispanic male in his late teens to mid-20s with a close-shaved haircut. He used a long gun similar to a hunting rifle, Francis said. He was wearing a black short-sleeve shirt and black shorts.
“I don’t know what his motivations were,” Mount Vernon Police Department Lt. Chris Cammock said at news conference Saturday. “But I certainly intend to find out.”
Cammock, who heads the Skagit Multi-Agency Response Team, is leading the investigation of the shootings. Burlington police department requested help from SMART because of the magnitude of the crime, he said.
Cammock said the suspect walked into Cascade Mall apparently unarmed shortly before 7 p.m. and returned about 10 minutes later with a rifle. A rifle was recovered by police at the scene, he said.
At a vigil for the victims Saturday morning at Maiben Park in Burlington, Kelly Couture recalled what she heard as she left the mall’s Target store Friday night.
“Just sirens and people were yelling and running out of the building,” Couture said. “It was kind of, like, chaotic. The amount of sirens and the amount of police cars was insane.”
Joanne Burkholder’s experience was more frightening.
“Security came into the room and said we need to evacuate immediately, and so we got into the hallway and there was, like, tons of people out there,” she said at the vigil. “People were panicking, screaming down the hallway. We were terrified so we went outside and there was lots of security locking down the place.”
Michelle Fuller said her niece was in the mall and heard the shots, and then led people to a nearby bathroom to hide. When her niece called her, “You could hear the panic in her voice.”
Tari Caswell told the Skagit Valley Herald that she was in the Macy’s women’s dressing room and heard what she thought were balloons popping, which seemed strange.
“Then I heard seven or eight or more, and I just stayed quiet in the dressing room because it just didn’t feel right,” she told the Herald. “And it got very quiet. And then I heard a lady yelling for help, and a man came and got me and another lady, and we ran out of the store.”
Francis said the suspected shooter was last seen walking west toward Interstate 5. A search at the mall and surrounding area included bomb-sniffing dogs and a helicopter. Just before 11 p.m., Francis said two-thirds of the mall had been cleared, and officers were still working room-by-room.
Emergency medics entered the 434,000-square-foot mall escorted by police, Francis said. Some people were still possibly holed up in the mall, which was declared clear several hours later.
The casualty count fluctuated through the evening. Law enforcement officers first said four people were fatally shot, then lowered the toll to three before raising it again.
The four female victims were fatally shot in the Macy’s store on the west side of the mall, the State Patrol said.
The FBI has no information to suggest additional attacks are planned in the state, spokeswoman Ayn Dietrich-William said. The FBI is sending a team to help local law enforcement with the investigation.
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