Los Angeles (AFP) – Police were searching Saturday for a gunman who killed five people during a shooting at a mall in the US state of Washington, amid a raging national debate over gun control.
Four women and one man were killed, police said in an updated toll. The man had been taken to hospital with life-threatening injuries, but died there, police spokesman Sergeant Mark Francis said.
Authorities say there was only one shooter in Friday night’s attack at Cascade Mall in Burlington, located about 70 miles (110 kilometers) north of Seattle, describing him as a Hispanic male wearing a gray shirt.
Police released a closely cropped still from video surveillance of the young-looking suspect showing only his head and torso, though the full picture, published by local media, showed him holding what appeared to be a rifle.
The debate over gun control is fierce in the United States, which has been wracked by gun violence. It’s a hot issue on the campaign trail ahead of the November 8 presidential election.
Police received calls around 6:58 pm Friday (0058 GMT Saturday) that shots were fired at the mall, Trooper Rick Johnson, another spokesman, told CNN.
“Right now, we can’t assume anything. So they’re still interviewing witnesses and trying to get a good idea of exactly what action to take next. We’re just asking people to, obviously, stay away from the area,” he said.
“Stay inside and obviously report anything suspicious that they may see.”
The suspect was last seen walking toward a local highway from the mall before police arrived, Francis said on Twitter.
The mall was evacuated, police swarmed the area and medics rushed to the scene after the mall was initially placed on lockdown.
– ‘Shot after shot after shot’ –
Witnesses told KOMO News that a shooter walked into Macy’s department store and opened fire. Nearby businesses were evacuated, the television station added.
“I hear one shot and then stand kinda still and like two, three other people start running out saying ‘gun’ and then shot after shot after shot,” said Armando Patino, who was working at a cell phone store.
“I turn around and run to the store. Some people didn’t know where to go. I just moved them into the store,” he added.
“We went in the back where we have a door and everything and we just stayed there until they told us to evacuate.”
Multiple law enforcement agencies and sniffer dogs were searching for the suspect.
The FBI’s Seattle field office said it was assisting local authorities in reviewing intelligence and was providing additional manpower.
“At this time, #FBI has no information to suggest additional attacks planned in WA state,” it said.
Police took hours to clear the sprawling building, with Francis explaining that there were “a lot” of locked rooms and doors. They are now focusing on the investigation.
Authorities were due to provide updates during a press conference at 8:00 am (1500 GMT).
The mall said it would stay closed on Saturday as a mark of respect for the victims.
“We are deeply saddened by the tragic event that occurred this evening. Our prayers and condolences are with the victims and their families,” a Facebook message read.