Gunfire erupted inside a New Jersey mall Friday night, sending panicked shoppers running and putting stores into lockdown as police arrived to evacuate the mall, officials said.
Two men were shot on the third-floor food court at Newport Centre Mall in Jersey City Friday night, officials and witnesses said, sparking a stampede of frightened people out of the mall and prompting stores to go into lockdown.
Police said the shooting was targeted and the general public does not appear to be in danger. Two victims later turned up at a nearby hospital with gunshot wounds, one to the arm and the other to the abdomen; both are in critical but stable condition. Both are possible involved in gangs, and one of them has an arrest warrant out for attempted murder in another recent shooting in Jersey City.
"We know some of the players here. They weren't up to any good in the mall," Jersey City Police Chief Mike Kelley said at a news conference later Friday. "We have no friendly person that was struck by gunfire, and that's important to know."
It's not clear whether the shooter was one of those men who walked into the hospital, or whether a suspect was still being sought. Mayor Steven Fulop said police were still canvassing the mall and examining surveillance video.
The sound of gunfire immediately caused panic. One worker inside the mall said he was coming down from the second floor inside Macy's when he suddenly saw people running past.
"I saw a huge rush of people running in the opposite direction, toward the back entrance where the light rail was," said Daniel Pasqual. "I was with my co-worker and we just started running with them."
Pasqual said he didn't know at first why they were running until somebody shouted, "There's a shooting!"
"We just had to escape. We left the mall as soon as possible," he said. "I didn't feel anything in the moment, I just had to get out. I did get nervous afterward, hoping my coworkers were OK."
Cellphone video captured the chaos as screaming people scrambled to run out.
A newspaper reporter described hearing gunfire just after leaving the movie theater, next to the food court, with his family.
"I heard a thump," said Scott Fallon of the North Jersey Record. "It may have just been one shot. I heard screaming and then an avalanche of people started running from the food court."
Another moviegoer, Melanie Mayorgao, said everyone started running when they heard the gunfire.
"We just ran to the locker room of the movie theater, and we just stayed there until they cleared us out," she said, adding that her legs "turned to Jell-O" during the terrifying exerience. She and a friend also saw blood on the food court.
"I see everybody running, you just hear all the popping," said Nicole Pagan. "I called my mom, I called my dad, I called everybody I know, [to tell them] that I love them and I just made sure they knew I was safe."
Police sources said three shots were fired from at least two guns.
Carlos Roman was among family members anxiously waiting outside the mall to pick up their loved ones trapped inside the mall. He said his mother had called him crying.
"It's never something you want to hear your mother calling, in a frantic mode," he said.
She and other shoppers were escorted to the JCPenney break room, where workers were calming down shoppers with snacks and water and words of reassurance.
"I work, thank God, a couple blocks away from here, so I rushed my way over here and I've been here since," said Roman.
Fulop praised police and first responders, saying their active shooter training paid off Friday.
"Really a good job done by Jersey City police, ESU, in conjunction with NJ Transit and Port Authority," he said.
A spokesman for the Newport Centre Mall said, "We are grateful for the swift response to this incident by our security team and the Jersey City Police Department," and referred further inquiries to police.
The mall will reopen Saturday, and anyone who left belongings behind in the scramble for safety will be able to retrieve them.
The Newport Mall is a three-level, 1.2 million square foot building near the PATH station, and attracts 13 million shoppers annually, according to its website.