PARAMUS, N.J. (AP) — Multiple shots were fired inside a northern New Jersey mall shortly before closing time, and the search was on early Tuesday for the suspected shooter, a Bergen County official said. There was no report of injuries.
Bergen County spokeswoman Jeanne Baratta told The Associated Press that authorities believe the suspected shooter is still in the Garden State Plaza Mall early Tuesday. She said SWAT teams have concentrated their search in the northeast corner of the 2.2-million-square-foot mall, near a Nordstrom store.
Baratta said a call was received saying shots were fired at the facility shortly before the mall's 9:30 p.m. closing time on Monday.
Paramus Police Chief Kenneth Ehrenberg said in a news release early Tuesday that the suspect was dressed in black and was wearing what is believed to be a motorcycle helmet. A weapon has not yet been recovered.
Witnesses said the sound of gunfire sent customers and employees rushing for the exits and hiding places.
Baratta said authorities found one bullet casing.
Hundreds of law enforcement officers converged on the mall, which was put on lockdown. New Jersey State Police landed a helicopter in the parking lot of one of the state's largest and most popular shopping malls.
Baratta said SWAT teams and police with K-9 units were going through the mall and working to evacuate anyone who is still in there. As of early Tuesday, authorities believed there were still people in the mall, she said.
At around 1 a.m. Nordstrom tweeted that everyone in their store had been released safely. "Our thoughts are with those still involved. We hope for a swift resolution," the tweet said.
The mall later tweeted its thanks to law enforcement saying, "We are sincerely grateful for the rapid response from law enforcement." It said Garden State Plaza Mall would be closed on Tuesday.
Nick Woods was working in the Lego store when a woman ran by shouting that there was a shooting.
Woods said his supervisor locked them in a back room, along with a woman, a man and a child. When they finally peeked out two hours later, he said they saw police officers standing outside and he called 911 to ask that the officers be told they were coming out.
He said the emergency operator told him she couldn't contact individual police officers and that he should walk out with his hands in the air.
"I had to go out of the store shouting at the officers with my hands up, and they turned and pointed their guns at me," Woods said. "It was one of the scariest experiences of my life."
Jessica Stigliano, 21, of Richfield, told the AP that she was sitting in the mall's food court when she saw people running and yelling "shots were fired."
Stigliano said she also began running. She said at the time she was thinking, "Not many people run for their life, but that's what I'm doing right now."
Carlos Sinde, 36, of Astoria, Queens said he was at the mall to see the 9:20 p.m. showing of the movie "Gravity" when the fire alarms went off and the movie stopped. He said he walked into the mall where someone was saying "I think there was a shooting," but he didn't take them seriously. Then, security guards ran up, urging customers to leave. He said one female security guard was crying.
"Once the security guards started telling us what was going on, that's when there was hysteria," he said.
Early Tuesday, families were being escorted by police to a Chili's on the outskirts of the mall area to be reunited with others who had been in the mall for hours.
Althea Brown, 26, of Paterson told NorthJersey.com she was in a clothing store when she saw a man walk by and then heard three shots followed by two more. She said he appeared to be wearing body armor and was wearing a helmet with the visor pulled up.
Several frightened customers sent tweets saying they were escorted from the mall by armed state troopers. One woman wrote that she ran from the mall "screaming."
The mall, which has more than 270 stores, is located in Bergen County, about 15 miles northwest of Manhattan.