Five people are dead after a gunman opened fire at Burlington's Cascade Mall on Friday night. Authorities still don't know the motive for the shooting.
BURLINGTON, Skagit County — The search is continuing for the gunman who fatally shot five people Friday night in the Cascade Mall in Burlington, and investigators said Saturday morning they don’t yet know who the gunman is nor why he opened fire.
Four females — ranging in age from teen to seniors — were confirmed dead, State Patrol Sgt. Mark Francis said. A man who was flown to Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center in critical condition died overnight, Francis said.
Their identities have not been released, though one is believed by her family to be Shayla Martin, a 52-year-old from Mount Vernon who worked as a make-up artist at Macy’s. Martin’s sister, Karen Van Horn, declined to talk Saturday evening.
“We’re really having a tough time right now,” Van Horn said in a brief phone call.
Van Horn, an employee at The Herald in Everett, told that newspaper that family members hadn’t heard an official confirmation that she was among the victims, but a witness told them that her sister was among the dead. Van Horn described her younger sister as an avid reader who was both classy and practical.
“She was so sweet,” Van Horn told The Herald. “She was just very independent. She wanted to make her own way. She didn’t want to rely on anyone else.”
Police said the suspect appeared to be a Hispanic male in his late teens to mid-20s with a close-shaved haircut. He used a long gun similar to a hunting rifle, Francis said. He was wearing a black short-sleeved shirt and black shorts. Police released a security-footage photo of him Friday night.
“I don’t know what his motivations were,” Mount Vernon Police Department Lt. Chris Cammock, commander of the Skagit Multi-Agency Response Team (SMART), said at a Saturday morning news conference. “But I certainly intend to find out.”
Asked why authorities believe the gunman may be Hispanic, Cammock said the description was based on the surveillance photos and the man’s dark hair. He acknowledged “photos aren’t exact replicas.”
Cammock is leading the investigation of the shootings; Burlington’s police department requested help from SMART due to the magnitude of the crime, he said.
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Cammock said the suspect walked into the mall apparently unarmed shortly before 7 p.m. and returned about 10 minutes later with a rifle. A rifle was recovered by police at the scene, he said. He did not disclose the caliber.
Taleia Thurman, 23, called her mother from a bathroom inside Kay Jewelers, where Taleia and three co-workers hid amidst Friday night’s gunfire.
One of the coworkers had seen the gunman and sprinted from a kiosk into the store to warn the others, Kim Thurman said, recounting her daughter’s story Saturday.
“It was nerve-wracking. They locked themselves in the bathroom — they didn’t even have time to roll the doors down,” Thurman recounted.
After the gunfire ended, Thurman cautioned her daughter to wait for police to arrive.
“It was a security guard that came and got them and ushered them outside. She didn’t have her keys, her purse or anything,” Thurman said.
Taleia was able to catch a ride to Lynnwood, where her mother met her and drove her home to Seattle.
“She was an emotional wreck” and “just melted” when she saw her mother and got in her car, Thurman said.
On Saturday, Thurman drove her daughter to the mall to retrieve her car, explaining Taleia’s manager was allowed inside the mall to gather employees’ personal belongings.
“It was very emotional … When we got up here, the bodies were still in the mall. Imagine those families,” she said, her eyes welling with tears. “I’m just thankful I’m not one of the ones” who lost a family member.
At Saturday morning’s news conference, Skagit County Coroner Hayley Thompson said she hadn’t yet gained access to the shooting scene to examine the victims. Saturday afternoon, a coroner’s van had arrived and four gurneys were wheeled into Macy’s.
Family members who suspect their loved ones may be among the dead were sequestered Saturday with mental-health volunteers at His Place Community Church, which is about a block from the south end of Cascade Mall, which will re-open Monday.
The church, acting as a family resource center, was packed Friday night as friends and relatives gathered to learn what scant information was being released, said Bill Overby, a volunteer with Skagit County’s Department of Emergency Management.
“These are very abnormal circumstances in a normal community with normal people and their reactions reflect that,” Overby said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty. People are obviously very concerned but there’s not a lot of answers (yet), which is common.”
He said it’s best at this point to avoid speculation or wild guesses because to do otherwise “revictimizes everyone involved.” The police investigation is proceeding deliberately, “but it needs to get it right,” Overby said.
Lacey Shoemaker, the disaster program manager for the Northwest Washington chapter of the Red Cross, said five disaster mental-health volunteers were dispatched to Burlington Friday night and continue to work with families impacted by the mass shooting. Support officers also are on scene to “assist in the emotional care of the community,” she said.
Shoemaker said the community of about 8,400 is pulling together, with restaurants, churches and other organizations providing food and lending support any way they can.
“It’s hit the community on a very emotional level. It’s a very small, tight-knit community. It’s just kind of unbelievable something like this would happen here,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of mixed emotions … It’s weird when it happens in your own back yard. It digs a little deeper.”
Assistant Pastor Nick Harris was graceful in declining any praise for opening his church to the community.
“I’m just the guy with the key. It’s God’s house so it’s here for everybody,” he said.
At a vigil for the victims Saturday morning at Maiben Park in Burlington, Kelly Couture recalled what she heard as she left the mall’s Target store Friday night.
“Just sirens and people were yelling and running out of the building,” Couture said. “It was kind of, like, chaotic. The amount of sirens and the amount of police cars was insane.”
Joanne Burkholder’s experience was more frightening.
“Security came into the room and said we need to evacuate immediately, and so we got into the hallway and there was, like, tons of people out there,” she said at the vigil. “People were panicking, screaming down the hallway. We were terrified so we went outside and there was lots of security locking down the place.”
A 14-year-old girl named Christina said Saturday she was getting her nails done in a salon on the other side of the mall from the Macy’s when the shooting occurred. She and her cousin, along with others in the salon, hid in a back room for about 10 minutes before fleeing the mall to an Applebee’s restaurant nearby.
“We just saw a whole bunch of people running out,” she said, her voice trembling. “One of the workers said she saw him (the shooter) pass by. We all got freaked out and ran into the little back room they had. Then a cop came and escorted us out.”
Christina added, “I go there pretty much every weekend. It’s just so strange that at a small mall like this, that would happen.”
Cammock asked members of the public to continue to stay away from the shopping mall.
He encouraged members of the public to contact law enforcement if they see him. Anyone with information on the suspect is asked to call 360-428-3211, or email email@example.com.
Francis said the suspected shooter was last seen walking west toward Interstate 5. A search at the mall and surrounding area included bomb-sniffing dogs and a helicopter. Just before 11 p.m., Francis said two-thirds of the mall had been cleared, and officers were still working room-by-room.
Emergency medics entered the 434,000-square-foot mall escorted by police, Francis said. Some people were still possibly holed up in the mall, which was declared clear several hours later.
The casualty count fluctuated through the evening. Law enforcement officers first said four people were fatally shot, then lowered the toll to three before raising it again.
The four female victims were fatally shot in the Macy’s store on the west side of the mall, the State Patrol said.
Map of the Cascade Mall area:
Burlington Mayor Steve Sexton said the city’s “thoughts and prayers go out to the families” of the victims.
“There are people waking up this morning and their lives are changed forever,” Sexton said. “The city of Burlington is changed forever.”
The mayor called the shooting a senseless act, saying “the world came knocking on our doorstep and it came to our little community here.”
“Our support goes with them (law enforcement and investigators), to help them … bring the son of a bitch to justice who did this to our community. Our community comes together in times of tragedy.”
About 9:20 p.m. Friday, police were swarming an area directly across I-5 from the mall. Police were telling people, “Get out of here immediately; you’re not safe here.”
Nearby residents were being told to stay inside and call 911 if they see anything suspicious. The Skagit County Department of Emergency Management also urged people to avoid the mall area. State transportation officials asked drivers to avoid the freeway near Highway 20, as well.
Michelle Fuller said her niece was in the mall and heard the shots, and then led people to a nearby bathroom to hide. When her niece called her, “You could hear the panic in her voice.”
Tari Caswell told the Skagit Valley Herald that she was in the Macy’s women’s dressing room and heard what she thought were balloons popping, which seemed strange.
“Then I heard seven or eight or more, and I just stayed quiet in the dressing room because it just didn’t feel right,” she told the Herald. “And it got very quiet. And then I heard a lady yelling for help, and a man came and got me and another lady, and we ran out of the store.”
People who were inside the mall were being taken to His Place Community Church near the mall, Francis said.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has no information to suggest additional attacks are planned in the state, spokeswoman Ayn Dietrich-William said. The FBI is sending a team to help local law enforcement with the investigation.
Macy’s on Saturday morning released this statement on its Facebook page:
“We are devastated by the tragic events that occurred last night at Cascade Mall. Our hearts are with our Burlington store, the families and loved ones of the victims, and the entire community. We are working closely with local law enforcement authorities as the investigation continues to unfold. They will be providing updates as the situation develops.”
The Burlington Harvest Festival and Pumpkin Pitch that was scheduled for Saturday at Skagit River Park in Burlington was cancelled.
Burlington-Edison’s football game against Lakewood at Burlington-Edison High School was postponed, according to media reports.
Gov. Jay Inslee released the following statement: “Tragedy has struck in Washington tonight. Our hearts are in Burlington.”
This marks Washington’s seventh mass shooting with at least four people shot this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Most recently, three people were shot dead and a fourth wounded at a house party in Mukilteo in July.
The nonpartisan organization, based in Washington, D.C., tracks and verifies incidents around the country, defining “mass shootings” as any single shooting incident in which four or more people are killed or wounded, not including the shooter.
Times staff reporter Mike Baker, researcher Miyoko Wolf and digital enterprise producer Evan Bush contributed to this report.
Editor’s note: A portion of this story was restored after an editing error.