Columbia: Three people died Saturday in a shooting at a shopping mall popular with young families in a suburb of the US capital, authorities said Saturday, as they searched for a motive and possibly more victims.
Police said the suspected perpetrator was believed to be among the fatalities at the Columbia Mall, where panicked shoppers scrambled to find shelter at the sound of gunshots.
"Right now, we think that one of the deceased is, in fact, the shooter," Maryland`s Howard County Police Chief Bill McMahon told reporters.
He said SWAT teams were currently inside the shopping center to "make sure there are no more victims."
McMahon could not immediately provide details on the identities of the dead or on a possible motive, saying only that three victims were found at an upper level store.
Howard County General Hospital said it was treating a victim who, according to a police tweet, suffered a gunshot wound to foot.
"We are still trying to secure the mall to make sure... that there`s nobody else injured," McMahon said.
First responders were alerted by an emergency police call at 1615 GMT indicating shots were fired inside the modest-sized, two-story shopping center.
"Police made entry and found three dead, one found near a gun and ammunition," Howard County Police tweeted.
Earlier news reports had said that the mall, located in Columbia, Maryland, about 45 minutes outside Washington, was on "lockdown" because of an "active shooter situation."
The mall of about 200 stores, which has an indoor carousel and play area, is a favored weekend destination for families and young children.
Many people living in Columbia, a planned community replete with parks and good schools, work in either Washington or Baltimore.
The Baltimore Sun newspaper said shoppers reported hearing gunfire before fleeing the upscale mall, home to several department stores such as Lord & Taylor, Macy`s and Nordstrom.
NBC television spoke to one man who said he was in phone contact with his daughter, who was taking shelter in a Bank of America branch inside the shopping center, along with dozens of others.
The young woman described a chaotic scene as shoppers were told to evacuate or quickly take shelter.
"People were panicking," the man said.
An employee at one of the stores, speaking to CNN, described the mayhem as shots resonated through the mall.
"In today`s world that we live in, when you hear gunshots, you run. There`s nothing else to do," he said.
The shooting is the latest in a slew of gun-related rampages in the United States.
The most notorious in recent history took place in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012 when a young gunman entered an elementary school and opened fire. In ten minutes, the 20-year-old shot and killed 26 people before taking his own life.
The Newtown attack briefly reignited the US gun control debate, triggered every time there is a major shooting, although attempts to pass tougher laws have made little headway in the US Congress.