“There are people waking up this morning and their world has changed forever,” an emotional Burlington Mayor Steve Sexton said. “This was a senseless act. It was the world knocking on our doorstep and it came to our little community here.”
The mayor added that authorities would come together “to bring this son of a b—- to justice.”
According to footage from mall security cameras, the shooter entered the mall without a rifle, said Lt. Chris Cammock, a spokesman for the Mount Vernon Police Department, which is assisting with the investigation.
About 10 minutes later, the shooter is picked up again on camera entering Macy’s, this time holding a rifle, Cammock said. He fired multiple times in the department store, striking four women and one man, whose ages vary, he said.
Police recovered a rifle from the scene, Cammock said, but would not elaborate on its type.
Police described the shooter as a Hispanic male wearing a dark shirt and dark shorts and armed with a rifle, according to several Twitter posts from Washington State Patrol spokesman Sgt. Mark Francis.
Police have not yet identified the shooter or a possible motive, but they say only one person was involved. The shooter was last seen walking toward Interstate 5 from Cascade Mall, authorities said.
On Saturday morning, Cammock said the basis for the shooter’s ethnicity was primarily based on security-camera images of a man with “dark hair” and with a darker complexion.
“I suppose the race could be anything,” Cammock said. “You can take a look at the photo yourself.”
A helicopter, search teams and K-9 units scoured the area for the shooter, who fled on foot, authorities said.
It took 11 search teams and two K-9 teams several hours to clear and secure 434,000 square feet of the mall Friday night, Francis said. Authorities said they spent over an hour interviewing more than 20 witnesses at the mall.
There were initially conflicting reports of how many victims were killed, but police confirmed late Friday that four women had died inside the mall. An injured male, the fifth victim, was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, county emergency officials said, but died there Saturday morning. Police did not release the names or ages of those who died.
As of Saturday morning, the bodies of the four female victims were still inside the mall, Skagit County coroner Hayley Thompson said at a news conference Saturday. Thompson said when she gained access to the scene, the four female victims would be taken to Skagit Valley Hospital and undergo autopsies.
Speaking to local media outlets, those in the mall described a chaotic scene as shots rang out.
“Someone ran by and said, ‘There’s an active shooter in the mall,’ and told us to lock our gate,” Doc Barron, who had been teaching a boxing class at the mall, told the Skagit Valley Herald.
Tari Caswell told the paper she was in a women’s dressing room at Macy’s when she heard “what sounded like four balloons popping, and I thought that was strange because I hadn’t seen any balloons.”
“Then I heard seven or eight more, and I just stayed quiet in the dressing room because it just didn’t feel right,” Caswell told the paper. “And it got very quiet. And then I heard a lady yelling for help, and a man came and got me and another lady, and we ran out of the store.”
Armando Patino told KOMO News that he helped frightened shoppers hide inside the T-Mobile store where he worked after people began realizing there was a gunman in their midst.
“Out of nowhere I just hear somebody yell and then after that, I turn around and just look at the Macy’s and I just hear shots,” Patino told the station. “I turn around and run to the store. Some people didn’t know where to go. I just moved them into the [T-Mobile] store. We went in the back where we have a door and everything and we just stayed there until they told us to evacuate.”
The Cascade Mall management said the property would be closed Saturday “out of respect for the victims of this tragic event and their families.” The mall was built in 1988 and comprises 539,000 total square feet in the “heart of the community,” according to the mall’s leasing website. The mall includes Macy’s, a 14-screen AMC movie theater, Chuck E. Cheese’s and the Children’s Museum of Skagit County.
The shooting was the second mass attack at a U.S. mall in a week. Last Saturday, 20-year-old Dahir Ahmed Adan went on a stabbing rampage inside the Crossroads Center mall in St. Cloud, Minn., injuring 10 people before he was fatally shot by an off-duty police officer.
Federal and local authorities have said they are investigating the Sept. 17 attack in Minnesota as a “potential act of terrorism.” The day after the attack, a news agency linked to the Islamic State militant group claimed Adan was “a soldier of the Islamic State.”
As of Saturday morning, police have not identified a motive or named the suspect in the Washington mall attack. The FBI field office in Seattle is assisting local authorities but said late Friday on Twitter that it had “no information to suggest additional attacks planned” in Washington state.
An FBI spokesman said Saturday that the agency had not ruled out terrorism but that there was no evidence to suggest that it was an act of terrorism.
“Tragedy has struck in Washington tonight. Our hearts are in Burlington where a shooter has taken the lives of at least four people. Many questions remain but our state patrol and local law enforcement are on the scene working swiftly to locate the shooter and clear the area,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) said in a statement late Friday. “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.”
This post has been updated.