Updated 12/12/12 8:52 a.m.
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A masked gunman wearing camouflage opened fire Tuesday in a busy Portland mall, leaving the gunman and two others dead and forcing the mall’s Santa Claus and hundreds of Christmas shoppers and employees to flee or hide among store displays.
Austin Patty, 20, who works at Macy’s, said he saw a man in a white mask carrying a rifle and wearing a bulletproof vest. He heard the gunman say, “I am the shooter,” as if announcing himself. A series of rapid-fire shots in short succession followed as Christmas music played. Patty said he ducked to the ground and then ran.
His Macy’s co-worker, Pam Moore, told The Associated Press the gunman was short, with dark hair. Witnesses said he started firing his military-style weapon just outside Macy’s in the food court of Clackamas Town Center.
Brance Wilson, the mall Santa, said he heard gunshots and dove for the floor. By the time he looked up, seconds later, everyone around him had cleared out. Merchandise was scattered in some stores as he made his way to the door.
“Santa will be back,” Wilson said. “It’s not going to keep Santa away from the mall.”
Workers and shoppers rushed out of the mall and into stores’ backrooms for safety as teams of police officers came inside to find the shooter.
The gunman was dead, apparently from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Clackamas County sheriff’s Lt. James Rhodes said. A shopper told KATU-TV he saw a man lying on the floor with a gun next to him.
Police said they have tentatively identified the gunman but would not release his name or give any information on a possible motive. 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,” Sheriff Craig Roberts said at a news conference late Tuesday.
Clackamas Town Center is one of the Portland area’s biggest and busiest malls, with 185 stores and a 20-screen movie theater. It would remain closed at least through Wednesday, Roberts said.
Shaun Wik, 20, from Fairview, 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. “I might have been one of the ones who got hit.”
Kira Rowland told KGW-TV that she was shopping at Macy’s with her infant son when the shots started.
“All of a sudden you hear two shots, which sounded like balloons popping,” Rowland told the station. “Everybody got on the ground. I grabbed the baby from the stroller and got on the ground.”
Rowland said she heard people screaming and crying.
“I put the baby back in the stroller and ran,” Rowland said.
Holli Bautista, 28, said she was shopping at Macy’s for a Christmas dress for her daughter when she heard pops that sounded like firecrackers.
“I heard people running and screaming and saying ‘Get out, there’s somebody shooting,'” she told the AP.
She said hundreds of shoppers and mall employees started running, and she and dozens of other people were trying to escape through a department store exit.
Authorities went store-to-store to confirm that there was only one shooter and to escort hiding shoppers outside.
Tiffany Turgetto and her husband were leaving Macy’s through the first floor when they heard gunshots coming from the second floor of the mall. They were able to quickly leave through a Barnes & Noble bookstore before the police arrived and locked down the mall.
“I had left my phone at home. I was telling people to call 911. Surprisingly, people are around me, no one was calling 911. I think people were in shock.”
Associated Press writers Nigel Duara in Portland, Michelle Price in Phoenix and Manuel Valdes in Seattle contributed to this report.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.