PORTLAND, Ore. — Gunfire rang out in the mall food court, transforming an afternoon of holiday shopping into a nightmare. The shooter, armed with a rifle, was dressed in dark clothing and wore a hockey-style face mask.
As panicked shoppers fled for cover, workers ushered some into hiding places within stores, or helped them to the exits. The first officers to arrive formed groups and rushed into the chaos, rather than waiting for the more heavily armed SWAT team.
“If we would have run out, we would have ran right into it,” said Kaelynn Keelin, who, along with other Made In Oregon co-workers, pulled customers into the store for shelter.
The quick mobilization of mall workers and police reflects the reality that, while mass shootings are rare, they have forced authorities to rehearse for such outbreaks of violence as if they are the norm.
“This could have been much, much worse,” Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts said.
Weapon was stolen
Roughly 10,000 people were inside the Clackamas Town Center on Tuesday afternoon, when police say Jacob Tyler Roberts, 22, armed himself with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle he stole from someone he knew, and went on a rampage that left two dead.
The sheriff said the rifle jammed during the attack, but the shooter managed to get it working again. He later shot himself. The sheriff and Roberts are not related.
As authorities tried to determine a motive, details emerged about Roberts from acquaintances and neighbors. They described him as relaxed, friendly and outgoing.
Roberts rented a basement room in a modest, single-story Portland home, said a neighbor, Bobbi Bates. She said she saw him leave at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, carrying a guitar case.
Police didn't wait
Roberts had several fully loaded magazines when he arrived at the mall, the sheriff said. He parked his 1996 green Volkswagen Jetta in front of the second-floor entrance to Macy's and walked through the store into the mall and began firing randomly in the food court.
He fatally shot Steven Mathew Forsyth, 45, and Cindy Ann Yuille, 54, the sheriff said. Another, Kristina Shevchenko, 15, was wounded and in serious condition on Wednesday, police said.
The first 911 call came at 3:29 p.m. Tuesday and officers arrived a minute later. Police immediately entered the mall.
Police spent hours clearing the 1.4-million-square-foot mall, as some workers and shoppers continued to hide in fear.
Roberts fled along a mall corridor and into a back hallway, down stairs and into a corner, where he apparently shot himself to death, authorities said.