Police responded to reports of a shooting at a suburban Baltimore mall in Columbia, Md., Saturday morning.
The Howard County Police Department has confirmed on its Twitter account that three people are dead, one of whom is believed to be the suspected gunman, who was found on the floor of Zumiez, a shop that caters to skaters in The Mall in Columbia.
Five others were treated for injuries, only one of which was a gunshot wound, reportedly to the foot.
At this time, police are refusing to confirm or deny reports of a motive in the shooting, but have confirmed the weapon used was a shotgun and the shooter was male.
John Patti of WBAL Radio, however, has reported the shooting was motivated by a domestic dispute, the shooter being the boyfriend of a clerk at the store. The assailant reportedly shot his former girlfriend and her new boyfriend – who also worked at the store – and then turned the gun on himself.
Yet at a 4 p.m. press briefing, HCPD Police Chief Bill McMahon was quick to dismiss that report as “speculation.”
“We have no knowledge of that yet,” McMahon said. “I’m not sure where that information is coming from.”
He confirmed only that the two victims were employees of the store, a male and female in their 20s. The HCPD has since confirmed the victims are Brianna Benlolo, 21, of College Park, Md., and Tyler Johnson, 25, of Ellicott City, Md.
Police reported a 911 call was placed around 11:15 a.m. local time describing shots fired at The Mall, prompting an emergency response.
The official Twitter feed also reported police entered the mall “to clear people out safely,” but warned shoppers and employees who had taken refuge in the locked down shopping center to wait for the police to evacuate them.
The police department also communicated at 12:35 p.m. local time that there was “no indication of additional shots fired” and that the scene is “believed to be secure.”
For now, the mall remains closed to the public, but the HCPD reports it has been cleared of all shoppers, employees and bystanders. Detectives are investigating the crime scene.
At a press briefing early Saturday afternoon, McMahon reported no officers fired their weapons, and the shooter was found dead when they arrived.
“We are confident it was a single shooter,” McMahon insisted.
Mall employees told CNN the gunfire erupted from the second floor of the mall, just above a first-floor food court in the late morning, sending shoppers and workers running for cover.
“It’s a mall shooting,” one mall worker, identified only as K.T., told CNN. “No one knows what’s going on. In today’s world, you hear gunshots and you run.”
The staccato of gunfire was followed by the cries and screams of children and adults running or ducking for cover under tables, the employees said.
“A lot of kids were crying and mothers were holding onto them,” K.T. said. “I wasn’t worried about me. I was just making sure everybody was OK.”
Joan Harding of Elkridge, Md., told the Associated Press she was shopping with her husband, David, for a tiara for their granddaughter’s 18th birthday. She said she heard something heavy falling, followed by gunshots and people running.
“My husband said, ‘Get down!’ and the girl that worked in the store said, ‘Get in the back,'” Harding said. That is where they hid until police gave the all-clear.
“I heard the shots and it was just a stampede. … There were people running everywhere,” said Antone Bishop, 19, who was shopping with his friend, Jared Malcolm, 19, at the Finish Line, a shoe store. “People were running out the of store. … People didn’t know what to do. People were crying. Everyone was just in a panic.”
Bishop told the Baltimore Sun he heard the shots and decided to go to the back of the store. He said about 20 people hid in a storage area for about 20 to 30 minutes until police came.
“At first I was in shock, and then I was calm and level headed,” said Malcom. “I was not overreacting because I did not see it.”
Laura McKinzles of Columbia works at a kiosk in the mall. She said she heard between eight and 10 gunshots, followed by people running and screaming. She ran into the backroom of a perfume store and locked the door.
The HCPD has not confirmed the total number of shots fired.