Scores of detectives are still investigating the suspected gunman who is accused of killing five people during a shooting rampage at Cascade Mall on Friday. Meanwhile, a Mount Vernon woman recalled a random encounter 20 minutes before gunfire erupted.
A Mount Vernon woman says she encountered accused gunman Arcan Cetin making his way into a movie theater at the Cascade Mall through an exit door about 20 minutes before he allegedly killed five people Friday in the nearby Macy’s department store.
“I was basically eye-to-eye with him … and I was rude to him,” the 50-year-old woman said Wednesday. “He was sweaty, very jittery, very nervous.”
The woman, who was with her husband, said the man claimed he was looking for a lost cellphone, but she thought at the time he was trying to sneak into the AMC Cineplex Odeon Cinemas through the exit-only door. Now she wonders if he may have been thinking about targeting patrons of the multiplex.
Police confirmed they received the couple’s tip, one of many a police task force is examining as it builds a timeline of the 20-year-old’s movements before the shooting and in the roughly 24 hours it took before his arrest Saturday in Oak Harbor, said Washington State Patrol Sgt. Mark Francis.
“There’s a lot of (surveillance camera) footage, including the theater footage,” said Francis, the spokesman for the Skagit Multiple Agency Response Team, or SMART, which is leading the investigation.
The woman said she and her husband had gone to the 4 p.m. showing of “The Magnificent Seven,” then had planned to go shopping at Macy’s afterward. But they decided they were too tired and so headed home, said the woman, who asked not to be identified to protect their privacy.
Instead of walking back through the mall to get to the parking lot, the couple used the glass, exit-only door on the mall’s northernmost end. There she saw a young man on the other side of the glass “and I just thought, ‘Uh oh, someone is waiting to sneak into the movie,’ ” she said.
As her husband held open the door for her, the woman said the young man tried to push his way in — and she sternly told him he had to wait for her and her husband to get by.
She spotted a second, older man, whom she described as having blond or gray hair and in his 50s, standing a few feet from Cetin. “I was annoyed,” she said of the idea a grown man was also trying to sneak in. She thought maybe the two were together but now isn’t sure.
Cetin did enter through the exit and she saw him crouching, as if looking for something, she said.
After getting home, the couple heard about the shootings and saw surveillance photos of Cetin released by police, and the couple were positive he was the man they encountered just after 6:30 p.m., she said. They’re equally certain he wasn’t armed with a rifle then.
“It was 20 minutes before he started shooting,” she said. “That scares the crumbs out of me.”
They drove back to the mall Friday night and reported the sighting to police.
Francis also confirmed that detectives had received a tip Cetin had tried to buy a handgun from a firearms dealer sometime before the mall shooting but was turned away. He declined to elaborate, saying, “We are following up on it as part of our investigation.”
According to KING-TV, a source involved in the investigation said the dealer notified authorities about the attempted purchase Tuesday. Cetin reportedly tried to buy a .45- caliber handgun, a much-larger caliber weapon than the .22-caliber rifle police say used in the shooting.
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Cetin was charged Monday in Skagit County District Court with five counts of premeditated first-degree murder and remains jailed in lieu of $2 million bail.
Several people called 911 at 6:53 p.m. Friday to report the shooting in the cosmetics department at Macy’s in the Burlington, Skagit County, mall. Police say Cetin then left the rifle on a cosmetics case, walked to the parking lot and drove off as officers began to arrive at the mall, according to the charges.
Cetin stole the weapon and ammunition from his stepfather in Oak Harbor earlier in the day, police allege.
Killed at the scene were: Sarai Lara, 16, of Mount Vernon; Shayla Martin, 52, of Mount Vernon; and Belinda Galde, 64, and her mother, 95-year-old Beatrice Dotson, both of Arlington. All died from multiple gunshot wounds, according to the Skagit County coroner.
Wilton “Chuck” Eagan, 61, of Lake Stevens, was mortally wounded and died at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle from multiple gunshot wounds, according to the King County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Francis said there are no indications that a second shooter was involved, nor is there anything to suggest Cetin, who is of Turkish descent and described by police as a permanent legal resident, was involved in an Islamic State group-inspired terrorist plot, “but the investigation is ongoing.”
Police are pouring through social-media posts and were able to confirm a Facebook page under Cetin’s name was his, said Francis. An FBI forensics team is taking over the investigation into Cetin’s Twitter, Tumblr and MySpace accounts, he said.
Police searched Cetin’s Oak Harbor apartment Sunday but didn’t recover any additional weapons or ammunition, he said. Cetin’s vehicle was searched Wednesday, but Francis had not yet been briefed on what, if any, evidence had been found.
As for Cetin’s motive, Francis said: “Obviously as each day goes by, we get a little closer on motive, but we’re not to the point where we’re ready to broadcast that out.”