A young masked man, bent on a mission of destruction and death, entered an Oregon mall and opened fire, turning the holiday shopping season into a chaotic horror that could have been much worse, police officials said Wednesday.
Police identified the shooter as Jacob Tyler Roberts, 22, who killed two people and seriously wounded a third before turning a weapon on himself and ending his life Tuesday afternoon, officials said.
The man entered the Clackamas Town Center, a popular suburban mall several miles from downtown Portland, on Tuesday afternoon. He was wearing a hockey-style mask and a protective vest and began firing with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, stolen from someone the suspect knew, police said. There were also several magazines of ammunition.
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Police said it was unclear how many shots were fired, but there were estimates of between 10 to 20 shots before Roberts turned the weapon on himself.
Police were still searching for a motive but have ruled out the idea that the shooter was specifically targeting anyone.
“We do not understand the motive of this attack,” Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts said at a televised news conference. “There is no apparent relationship between suspect and victims.”
People at the mall helped push shoppers out of the building, according to a variety of videos shot on cellphones by some of the shoppers fleeing. Shoppers, including two emergency room nurses and one physician who happened to be at the mall, provided medical assistance to victims who had been shot, Roberts said.
He praised the 10,000 shoppers “who kept a level head, got themselves out of the mall, got others out. There are a number of heroes,” Roberts told reporters. “There is a whole group of people coming together to make a difference.”
While saying that the deaths and injuries were tragedies, Roberts noted: “We all need to be very thankful that this incident was not much worse.”
It was a typical shopping day some two weeks before Christmas as more than 10,000 people crowded through the stores at the mall with more than 1.4 million square feet of commercial space. It was 3:29 p.m. when the first call went to 911, police said.
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“For all of us, the mall is supposed to be a place where we can take our families, especially during the holiday season,” Roberts said earlier on televised interviews. “Things like this are not supposed to happen.”
Witnesses told reporters of seeing a masked man carrying a long gun through the Macy’s toward the mall’s food court. Austin Patty, 20, who works at Macy's, told the Associated Press. There was a series of rapid-fire shots in short succession as Christmas music played, he said. Patty said he dove for the floor and then later fled.
The mall’s Santa, Brance Wilson, told reporters he was waiting for the next child to ask for Christmas presents when he heard shots ring out and the mall erupted into chaos.
“I heard two shots and got out of the chair. I thought a red suit was a pretty good target,” said Wilson, 68.
Families waiting for Santa scattered. More shots followed, and Wilson said he sought better cover.
Witnesses said they heard the gunman yell, “I am the shooter.”
More than 100 law enforcement officers responded to the scene, and at least four local agencies were working on the investigation, including the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which is working to trace the shooter's weapon.
At his news conference, the sheriff said the rapid and large turnout helped keep the body count low by limiting the shooter’s ability to move around.
Police rapid-response teams came into the mall with guns drawn, telling everyone to leave. Shoppers and mall employees who were hiding stayed in touch with loved ones with cellphones and texting.
By 3:51 p.m. the attack was over. The gunman had fled to a lower level of the mall and was found dead by his own hand, with the weapon nearby, police said.
The gun had earlier jammed, but the gunman was able to fix the problem, thus allowing the weapon to be used on himself, Roberts said.
The mall remained closed Wednesday with guards protecting the area. In a prepared statement, the mall operators praised the law enforcement response and said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone who was in the mall at the time of this unfortunate incident.”
The two dead were identified as a 54-year-old woman, Cindy Ann Yuille, and Steven Forsyth, 45.
Marijean Johnson of West Linn, Ore., said her son Hunter, 13, and Steve Forsyth’s son, Alex, are good friends. She described Forsyth as an “amazing man, very caring, very loving.” Johnson said Forsyth coached youth football and basketball in West Linn.
“He was fabulous, very good at communicating with the boys,” she said.