Shots fired in a packed New Jersey shopping mall yesterday are still being investigated, NJ state police have stated, after the suspected shooter has been found dead in one of the mall's stores by an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
The gunman has been identified as 20 year-old Richard Shoop, who was found dead behind the counter of a Foot Locker store in the plaza early Tuesday morning, at around 3:20AM EST, CNN reports.
American news media outlets reported today (Tuesday) that the incident, which comes on the heels of a deadly shooting at Los Angeles International Airport just this Friday, terrified hundreds of shoppers at the Paramus, NJ Westfield Garden State Plaza, who were evacuated only a few hours ago.
Shooting reportedly began at around 9:20PM EST Monday, by a man "dressed in all black" and wearing a black motorcycle helmet, who then fired an unspecified number of shots. Some witnesses have reported having heard only one or two shots; one woman claimed to Reuters that she heard five shots, and a store owner quoted by CNN believes it was as many as seven. As of late last night, only one shell casing had been found, Bergen county police reported.
Dozens of state police cruisers, including a SWAT team, converged on the scene, to immediately evacuate the public and search for the gunman. Paramus, NJ is located about twenty miles from New York City; the upscale mall is one of the prime shopping attractions in the larger NYC metropolitan area.
Evacuations took several hours, due partially to the mall's vast expanse - some 2,118,718 sq ft (196,835.3 sq m). Frantic shoppers had run for cover in every possible corner, only to be updated several minutes or even hours later by police and security forces.
The timeline and nature of the attack shows that it was clearly a premeditated act, not just stray or accidental gunfire. CNN reports that Allie Cozic, a mall employee, said she saw "someone dressed in all black, carrying a large gun, walk past our store [. . .] it was almost like when you're watching a horror movie and the killer is walking slowly -- that's what it seemed like. He was wearing all black, it almost looked like body armor of some kind. As soon as I saw the gun, I just turned and ran."
More questions remain as to the exact nature of the attack and to the identity of the gunman - or gunmen. A former navy officer present during the shooting claimed to WPIX that he saw up to five gunmen, carrying assault rifles.
The confusion and fear following the attack follows an upswing in shootings in the US in the past few weeks, including a shooting at a Nevada middle school, Friday's LAX shooting, and an incident over the weekend where a college student was shot a North Carolina University. Witness accounts also sound eerily similar to the Nairobi mall massacre in September, where a terror squad entered the shopping center and launched an attack on non-Muslims.
The exact events of the NJ mall shooting, and the whereabouts of the gunman behind them, are still under development. It is still unclear whether or not other gunmen were involved.