Onlookers gather outside the Clackamas Town Center mall, near Portland,… (Bruce Ely / Oregonian )
A masked gunman stormed into a crowded Portland, Ore.-area mall Tuesday, shouting, "I am the shooter!" and opened fire, killing two people and seriously injuring a third before killing himself, authorities and a witness said.
Christmas music was playing in the Clackamas Town Center when gunfire erupted, one witness told local media. Another said the mall Santa had to drop to the floor to take cover. More than 10,000 shoppers were in the 185-store mall at the time, officials said.
Some witnesses said the gunman used a rifle, but authorities did not confirm what kind of firearm was used or whether the assailant had more than one. Responding officers fired no shots, authorities said.
At a Tuesday night news conference, Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts described the injured victim as "a young lady at the hospital fighting for her life right now."
"The mall's supposed to be a place where we can all take our families.… These things aren't supposed to happen," Roberts said.
Austin Patty, 20, a Macy's employee at the mall, said the gunman wore a white mask and body armor as he ran through the store and into the mall's central court carrying a rifle.
"He was trying get to the mall to do a mall massacre," Patty said. "It didn't seem like he wanted anything to do with" the department store.
Before the gunman finished saying, "I am the shooter," Patty said, "the shots took over."
Officials believe the gunman acted alone. A sheriff's spokesman said Tuesday night that authorities were still trying to confirm his identity. No victims' names were released.
Alina Pavlenko, 16, was working at Fabulicious Cupcakes on the mall's second floor when she heard shots. At first, she said, she thought it might be firecrackers. Then she saw a man in a mask, walking slowly and firing a rifle at random.
"And he looked my way and he shot toward me, and then I realized it wasn't a joke," she said, her voice still shaky hours later.
She ducked behind a chair, the teenager said, then bolted out of the mall.
"I kept running out and I kept hearing gunshots over and again," she said. As she fled, she saw a woman lying on the ground.
More than three hours after the 3:30 shooting, authorities were still clearing the mall, which encompasses more than a million square feet and includes Nordstrom, JCPenney, Sears and 20 theaters.
Customers and employees who couldn't get out took shelter throughout the mall, which police were evacuating room by room.
Nicole Mason, 18, of Vancouver, Wash., said she was in the Things Remembered store next to Macy's on the lower level of the two-story mall when she heard a loud shot outside the store.
"We heard a really loud bang, and at first it sounded like something had dropped or something had shattered," Mason said. "About 15 seconds after that first shot, it was bang, bang, bang. At least 20 shots were fired."
Seth Benson, 20, of Camas, Wash., was with her. When Mason dropped to the floor, he jumped on top of her.
"All I'm thinking is, 'Comfort her,' so I laid on top of her and told her it was all going to be OK," Benson said.
The Things Remembered manager told shoppers to head for a back door behind the register, shouting, "Go!" the witnesses said.
Benson said he helped a man with a prosthetic leg get up off the floor as he was being trampled. They reached the chaotic parking lot within 45 seconds, Benson and Mason said.
Shaun Wik, 20, said he and his girlfriend were taking a break from Christmas shopping in the food court. He had just opened a fortune cookie that said, "Live for today, remember yesterday, think of tomorrow."
As he read it, he told the Associated Press, he heard three shots. Wik and his girlfriend fled as seven or eight more shots rang out.
"If I had looked back, I might not be standing here," he said.
Youssef Ibrahim, 26, of Milwaukie, Ore., said he heard the shots as he was about to take an escalator down toward Macy's from the second level.
"As soon as I heard the gunfire, I turned around and started running," Ibrahim said. "Some people saw me running and just started running. ... Panic, pandemonium, people running; I ran for my life. Literally, my wallet fell out. Thank God I have my phone on me."
No one was safe — not even Santa.
Bob Schwab, a World War II veteran, told the Oregonian that he was "by Santa Claus in front of Macy's and we heard, 'pow, pow, pow.' People screamed and ran. I saw Santa drop to the floor" to take cover, he said.
The mall Santa, Brance Wilson, confirmed that but offered a comforting note to his young fans.
"Santa will be back," he said. "It's not going to keep Santa away from the mall."
Times staff writer Kim Murphy in Seattle contributed to this report.