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Hunt for mall gunman continues after death toll rises to five

Published 24/09/2016

At least one suspect is being hunted over the mall shooting
At least one suspect is being hunted over the mall shooting

The hunt for a gunman who killed five people in a US shopping mall is continuing.

The death of a man in the early hours of Saturday brought the death toll to five after four woman had been killed in the Friday night rampage at the Macy's make-up counter at the Cascade Mall in Burlington in Washington state.

"There are people waking up this morning and their world has changed forever. The city of Burlington has probably changed forever, but I don't think our way life needs to change," Burlington mayor Steve Sexton said on Saturday at a news conference.

"This was a senseless act. It was the world knocking on our doorstep and it came into our little community."

As the small city absorbed the news, critical questions remained, including the identity of the shooter, his motive and his whereabouts.

A massive manhunt continued and police broadcast a plea for tips. The FBI said terrorism was not suspected.

The gunman was described by witnesses to police as a young Hispanic man dressed in black.

Surveillance video captured him entering the mall unarmed and then recorded him about 10 minutes later entering the Macy's with a "hunting type" rifle in his hand, Mount Vernon Police Lieutenant Chris Cammock said.

Authorities did not say how the suspect may have obtained the weapon - whether he retrieved it from outside or picked it up in the mall - but they believe he acted alone. The weapon was recovered at the scene.

The identities of the victims - four women who ranged in age from a teenager to a senior citizen - were withheld pending post mortems and notification of family. The identity of the man who was fatally shot was also withheld.

"Probably one of the most difficult moments for us last night was knowing that there were family members wondering about their loved ones in there," Mr Cammock said.

As police scrambled to find the shooter, the small city about 60 miles north of Seattle settled into a new and nerve-wracking reality.

The community of 8,600 people is too far from Seattle to be a commuter town, but its population swells to 55,000 during the day because of a popular outlet mall, retail stores and other businesses.

Burlington is the only major retail centre within 30 miles in a region where agriculture is king, said Linda Jones, the president of the Burlington Chamber of Commerce.

Surrounding Skagit County has deep agricultural roots and is home to families that have worked the land for generations. Farmers produce about 300 million dollars worth of more than 90 different crops a year - a heritage that is celebrated each October with tours of family farms that attract thousands, according to Washington State University's agricultural extension.

Residents, rattled by the fact that the shooter was still on the loose, relied on those bonds Saturday to comfort each other at a community gathering in a city park.

"It's too scary. It's too close to home," said Maria Elena Vasquez, who attended the gathering with her husband and two young children.

"I'm a little nervous even taking her to her soccer game today with this person still on the loose. But I want to keep it normal for her," she said of her seven-year-old daughter.

Those who survived were still trying to process what happened as their community became the latest entry on a list of places known by the rest of world for mass shootings.

As the shots rang out, shoppers hid in dressing rooms and bathrooms and made hushed, terrified phone calls to relatives. One woman started running with her four-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter only to slip and fall - and then watch as the shooter strode past her terrified children, Kiro-TV reported on its Twitter feed.

"We have never been so scared in our lives," the woman texted the station.

Joanne Burkholder, 19, of nearby Mount Vernon, was watching the movie The Magnificent Seven in the mall's cinema when security guards came in and told them to evacuate immediately. Dozens of panicked moviegoers gathered in the hallway, and Ms Burkholder heard screaming as the officers escorted them to safety in a parking lot.

As she drove home later, she had to pull over because she was shaking so hard, she said.

"I'm just very thankful for my life this morning. I've never been so terrified in my life," she said on Saturday, trying to hold back tears as she attended the community vigil.

"You'd think it would happen in Everett or Seattle, but a small town of Burlington, I'd never dream something like this would happen."

The parking lot was closed on Saturday and emergency management officials told people they would be able to retrieve vehicles later in the day, though the mall was shut.

The Cascade Mall is an enclosed shopping mall that opened in 1990. It features JC Penney, TJ Maxx, and Macy's stores, among other stores, restaurants and a cinema.

On September 17, a man stabbed 10 people at a Minnesota mall before being shot and killed by an off-duty police officer.

Authorities said Dahir Ahmed Adan, 20, stabbed the people at the Crossroads Centre in St Cloud.


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