Island County sheriff was inside mall during shooting -- without a gun

Island County Sheriff Mark Brown found himself inside the Cascade Mall during a shooting. But he wasn't armed. (Photo: KOMO News)

COUPEVILLE, Wash. -- Island County Sheriff Mark Brown was playing a game on his phone on Sept. 23 and relaxing after a drink and dinner. His wife was shopping at the Macy's in Burlington's Cascade Mall.

Then Brown heard a series of pops. And a clerk ran by telling people to leave the store.

A mass shooting that would kill five people was taking place.

"The expectation people have on police officers in these situations is that they're immediately going to solve the situation and not having the ability to do that is certainly frustrating," Brown said in an interview with KOMO News.

Brown was without a gun.

"When I realized the clerk was moving through, I reached for my hip and realized the situation I was in."

He didn't have a gun or know who was shooting. But Brown grabbed his wife, Kathi. He did have a plan.

"Find Kathi get her out. Get as many people out as we could, try to identify people coming out of the store as either witnesses or possible suspects," he said.

The couple ran into the parking lot. Kathi tried to call 911, but the lines were busy. Sheriff Brown talked to people coming out of the mall and kept an eye out for anyone suspicious.

Within minutes, police arrived, and Brown directed them inside. An officer eventually told the couple and other people who weren't eyewitnesses to go home.

" ... for some reason we were spared...," Brown said.

Arcan Cetin is accused of walking into the Macy's that night and picking off victims, who ranged in age from 16 to 95. He has been charged with five counts of murder.

Since that night, Sheriff Brown has replayed what happened and questioned if he should have done something different.

"It's an awkward situation. I hindsight I wish that I had been armed and proactively done something in approaching the direction where the shots were fired.," he said.

He says he was embarrassed after the shootings that he wasn't armed. But now after talking to fellow officers, he stands by his decision not to carry a gun while out of Island County and off duty.

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