STATE — Witnesses reported a lone gunman, dressed all in black and wearing a black helmet, fired shots inside the largest mall in New Jersey on Monday night just before closing time.
Although hundreds of police officers from across North Jersey responded to the shooting scene, officials believe the assailant left without being captured.
“We are searching for a shooter,” Mayor Richard Labarbiera told reporters outside the Garden State Plaza in Paramus, which with more than 300 stores in 2.1 million square feet of retail space is one of the largest and busiest shopping centers in the United States.
The mall, which was due to close at 9:30 p.m., was surrounded by police cars from Paramus and surrounding communities.
Althea Brown, 26, of Paterson said she was in a clothing store when she saw the gunman walk by wearing body armor, with the visor of his helmet pulled up. “He looked at me and kept on walking,” said Brown, who heard three shots, then two more.
Jim Tedesco, the deputy coordinator of the Bergen County Office of Emergency Management, said authorities believe the shooter had left the mall.
Tedesco said police were reviewing security camera footage to see if they could determine what had happened to the shooter. In the meantime, he said, the mall remained on “total lockdown.”
Many people had been escorted out by police, but Tedesco said many shoppers — perhaps thousands — remained inside at 11:20 p.m.
The shooting in Paramus was the second in as many days involving a New Jersey resident.
Paul Ciancia, 23, an unemployed motorcycle mechanic who recently moved to Los Angeles from Pennsville, N.J., is charged with murder of a federal officer after opening fire at Los Angeles International Airport Monday in a plot to kill a Transportation Security Administration officer and show how easy it is to get a gun into an airport.
In court documents and interviews, authorities spelled out a chilling chain of events, saying Ciancia walked into the airport’s Terminal 3, pulled the assault rifle from his duffel bag and fired repeatedly at 39-year-old TSA officer Gerardo I. Hernandez. He went up an escalator, turned back to see Hernandez move and returned to shoot him again, according to surveillance video reviewed by investigators.
He then fired on two other uniformed TSA employees and an airline passenger, who all were wounded, as he moved methodically through the security checkpoint to the passenger gate area before airport police shot him as panicked travelers hid in stores and restaurants.
Gun-related violence and high-profile mass shootings have fueled debate over firearms policies, but political efforts to impose restrictions have fallen flat in Congress.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 66.9% of all United States homicides in 2009 were perpetrated using a firearm. Furthermore, two-thirds of all gun-related deaths in the United States are suicides. In 2010, there were 19,392 firearm-related suicides, and 11,078 firearm-related murders in the United States.
States with stricter firearms laws have fewer deaths from gun-related violence, but gun control restrictions are generally not politically popular and even bipartisan efforts to expand background checks for gun buyers — an idea that had support of 90 percent of Americans polled — failed to win approval in the U.S. Senate.
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