The U.S. mall shooting that left three dead and forced hundreds of Christmas shoppers to hide or flee appears to have been a random attack, authorities said Wednesday.
The masked gunman, who was one of the three dead, was seemingly targeting “anyone who was in his line of sight,” Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts told NBC’s “Today” show.
“It was very apparent that he had a mission set forth to really take the lives of people in that mall,” Roberts said.
Police said they have tentatively identified the gunman but would not release his name.
The shooting Tuesday afternoon at the busy Portland, Oregon, mall started shortly after a man in a white mask carrying a rifle and wearing a bulletproof vest said, “I am the shooter,” as if announcing himself, said Austin Patty, 20, who works at a mall department store.
A series of rapid-fire shots followed as Christmas music continued to play. Patty said he ducked and then ran.
Witnesses said the suspect fired several times near the mall food court until the rifle jammed, and he dropped a magazine onto the floor and ran into the Macy’s store.
Some were close enough to the shooter to feel the percussion of his gun.
“I saw a gentleman face down, obviously shot in the head,” said Jason DeCosta, the manager of company with a display on the mall’s ground floor. “A lot of blood. You could tell there was nothing you could do for him.”
DeCosta said he also saw a woman on the floor who had been shot in the chest.
Officials said a woman was also shot and was in serious condition at a Portland hospital.
“We have a young lady in the hospital fighting for her life right now,” Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts said at a news conference late Tuesday.
Clackamas County sheriff’s Lt. James Rhodes said the gunman was dead, apparently from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Authorities went store-to-store to confirm that there was only one shooter, Rhodes said.
The mall Santa, Brance Wilson, said he heard gunshots and dove for the floor. By the time he looked up, seconds later, everyone around him had cleared out. Parents with children joined other shoppers rushing to stores’ backrooms for safety.
“Santa will be back,” Wilson said. “It’s not going to keep Santa away from the mall.”
Shaun Wik, 20, said he was Christmas shopping with his girlfriend and opened a fortune cookie at the food court. Inside was written: “`Live for today. Remember yesterday. Think of tomorrow.”
As he read it, he heard three shots. He heard a man he believes was the gunman shout, “Get down!” but Wik and his girlfriend ran. He heard seven or eight more shots. He didn’t turn around.
“If I had looked back, I might not be standing here,” Wik said.
(Associated Press writers Nigel Duara in Portland, Michelle Price in Phoenix and Manuel Valdes in Seattle contributed to this report.)
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