By Barbara Goldberg
PARAMUS, New Jersey | Tue Nov 5, 2013
(Reuters) – Police backed by dozens of cruisers evacuated a New Jersey shopping mall and launched a manhunt shortly before closing time on Monday after a person with a gun opened fire in the complex, officials said.
No injuries were reported during the incident, in which a single shot was confirmed as having been fired, the mayor of Paramus, New Jersey told reporters.
Thousands of people shopping, dining and at movie theaters were evacuated from the Garden State Plaza mall. “Everyone is safe,” Mayor Richard LaBarbiera said, adding that investigators believed the shooter had eluded police.
Televised images from outside showed a heavy police presence with dozens of cruisers converging on the mall, located about 20 miles northwest of New York City. CNN, citing witnesses, reported that the shooter had fired at security cameras.
The incident comes two months after a group of al Qaeda-linked militants launched an attack on a mall in Nairobi that killed 67 people.
Paramus Police Detective Rachel Morgan said some stores in the Garden State Plaza were still locked down. “(Police) are moving from store to store to store removing employees and patrons,” she said.
Najee Waters, 19, of East Rutherford, New Jersey, was at his sales job at an H&M clothing store when he heard what sounded like two shots ring out.
“It was frantic. Absolutely chaos,” said Waters, who followed a practiced store emergency plan and rushed to a break room at the back of the store, where about a dozen workers gathered before dashing out to the parking lot. About 25 customers were in the store at the time.
A woman hiding in one store told Reuters she had heard five shots.
The Garden State Plaza mall, owned by Australia’s Westfield Group, is one of five large malls in Paramus, known as a key shopping destination in the New York Metropolitan area.
(Additional reporting by Eric Johnson, Dan Whitcomb, David Jones, Chris Michaud and Lisa Shumaker; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Philip Barbara and John Stonestreet)