By Barbara Goldberg
PARAMUS, New Jersey (Reuters) - A gunman opened fire in a crowded New Jersey mall late on Monday before killing himself, officials said, sparking a mass evacuation of the complex by police who did not realize he was dead for several hours.
The man shot at least six rounds from a modified rifle seemingly at random and without hitting anyone, before turning the gun on himself in a back area of the mall, Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli told a news conference early on Tuesday.
Authorities named the dead man as 20-year-old Richard Shoop and said he had a history of drug abuse. Officials found his body in the Westfield Garden State Plaza in Paramus at around 3:20 a.m. local time (0820 GMT).
Police backed by dozens of cruisers had earlier evacuated thousands of people from the mall and launched a manhunt after shoppers reported hearing gunshots sometime after 9 p.m, said Chief of Staff at Bergen County Jeanne Baratta.
Najee Waters, 19, of East Rutherford, New Jersey, was at his sales job at an H&M clothing store when he heard what sounded like two shots ring out.
"It was frantic. Absolutely chaos," said Waters, who followed a practiced store emergency plan and rushed to a break room at the back of the store, where about a dozen workers gathered before dashing out to the parking lot. About 25 customers were in the store at the time.
The shooting occurred two months after a group of al Qaeda-linked militants launched an attack on a mall in Nairobi that killed 67 people.
The Garden State Plaza mall, owned by Australia's Westfield Group, is one of five large malls in Paramus, located about 20 miles northwest of New York City and known as a key destination for shoppers.
(Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb, David Jones, Chris Michaud and Lisa Shumaker; Writing by Eric M. Johnson and Scott Malone; Editing by Philip Barbara and John Stonestreet)