Five killed in shooting at Cascade Mall; search on for gunman
BURLINGTON, Wash. -- The FBI has joined the search for an armed man suspected of killing five people in a shooting at Cascade Mall in Skagit County.
The shooter remained on the loose Saturday morning. Police don't know his name or his motive. Investigators said newly released surveillance photos show the suspect enter the mall without a weapon, then was seen about 10 minutes later with the rifle inside the Macy's store. It's not clear where he got his gun.
He left his rifle behind in the mall and apparently slipped away as police began combing through the shopping center. The FBI said right now, there's no indication this is an act of terror.
According to police, four women were killed. The fifth victim, a man, died later at Harborview Medical Center.
The four women's bodies remain inside the mall. And it may take some time for an autopsy for all four and to identify them. They were described as ranging in age from teenagers to seniors.
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families who were affected by this tragedy," said Burlington Mayor Steve Sexton. "This was a senseless act. It was the world knocking on our doorstep and it came to our little community here."
An emotional Sexton called on the community to help find the shooter.
"I know our main support goes with them, to help them, the long arm of the law, to bring the son-of-a-bitch to justice who did this to our community," he said at a news conference.
Central United Methodist Church in Sedro-Woolley will be hosting a prayer vigil at 5 p.m. Saturday in honor of the shooting victims. The church will be open form 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. as a space for prayer and meditation for the Skagit Valley community, Cody Natland, a pastor at the church, 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 autopsies and notification of family. The identity of the man who was fatally shot was also withheld and may not be released until Monday.
"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," Cammock said.
As police scrambled to find the shooter, the small city about 60 miles (97 kilometers) 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 center within 30 miles (48 kilometers) in a region where agriculture is king, said Linda Jones, 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.
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," she said of her 7-year-old daughter. "But I want to keep it normal for her."
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.
Joanne Burkholder, 19, of nearby Mount Vernon, was watching the movie "The Magnificent Seven" in the mall's theater when security guards came in and told them to evacuate immediately. Dozens of panicked moviegoers gathered in the hallway, and 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 told The Associated Press.
"I'm just very thankful for my life this morning. I've never been so terrified in my life," she said 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."
Noel Cuevas, 39, who lives in nearby Mount Vernon, was eating dinner with his family at the mall when he saw people running.
A woman told them to evacuate and he grabbed his 5-year-old daughter and he and his wife ran outside and across the street. When he finally got home Friday night, Cuevas made sure all his doors and windows were locked.
"Nobody knows who it is. He's out there," he said, as he waited Saturday to pick up the truck he had left in the mall parking lot. "He could be anywhere."
Emergency management officials started to allow some people to retrieve their vehicles Saturday, though the mall was shuttered through Monday morning.
People who believed they may have lost loved ones were being sequestered at a church three blocks from the mall, where counselors and a golden retriever therapy dog were present. Another vigil was planned for Saturday evening in the nearby town of Sedro-Woolley.
The Cascade Mall is an enclosed shopping mall that opened in 1990. It was built in 1990 and features several large retails stores, restaurants, and a movie theater. It is located 65 miles north of Seattle.
On Sept. 17, a man stabbed 10 people at a Minnesota mall before being shot and killed by an off-duty police officer. Authorities say Dahir Ahmed Adan, 20, stabbed the people at the Crossroads Center in St. Cloud.
Gov. Jay Inslee issued a statement Friday night saying, "Tragedy has struck in Washington tonight. Our hearts are in Burlington where a shooter has taken the lives of at least four people."
He went on to say, "Trudi and I send our condolences to the families of the victims and prayers for anyone injured. We urge residents to heed all safety and detour warnings. Stay close to your friends and loved ones as we await more information and, hopefully, news of the suspect's capture."