COLUMBIA, SC – A holiday weekend was interrupted by violence as nine people were shot dead in a crowded South Carolina mall on Saturday and five others were injured in an ensuing stampede during gunfire , authorities said.
Police said they believe the shooting, at the Columbiana Center mall, was not random and was likely related to an “ongoing dispute” between people who knew each other.
Investigators, based on witness statements and surveillance video, believe at least three people displayed firearms inside the mall. At least one weapon has been recovered, and a preliminary review of ballistic evidence indicates at least two firearms were used by two people, police said.
A person originally detained by police, Jewayne M. Price, will be charged with unlawfully carrying a pistol, the police said. Other charges may be forthcoming.
Two other men who were also held for questioning were released after it was determined they were not involved in the shooting, police said.
Police updated information on the number of people injured and injured late on Saturday: nine people were shot dead and five others suffered injuries, including broken bones, cuts and a head injury, as they tried to run away from the mall. The victims were between 15 and 73 years old.
Police said the only victim who remained hospitalized was a 73-year-old woman. The other victims had been treated and discharged.
The shooting, which was reported shortly after 2 p.m. on a busy afternoon on Easter Eve, caused shoppers at the mall to rush for safety.
Blair Mcilravy and Kailana Brown, both 11, were shopping at Palmetto Moon, a clothing store, on Saturday, intending to attend the University of South Carolina spring football game next.
Then a series of gunshots rang out. Kailana’s mother quickly escorted them to a supply closet to hide.
“We heard people screaming and running and gunshots,” Blair said.
They had to call Blair’s mother, Keri Mcilravy, from a landline because Blair could only receive one text – “Mom” – before her cell phone stopped working. When Ms Mcilravy arrived at the mall, the girls had been escorted outside by law enforcement officers.
“I went into combat mode,” Ms Mcilravy said when she heard a shooting had trapped her daughter. “We broke all the traffic laws to get there.”
Police, who went from store to store in a methodical sweep of the mall, ordered workers to shelter in place and wait for law enforcement to arrive. “DO NOT leave a store until you have been instructed to do so by the relevant authorities”, said the police on Twitter.
In parking lots near the mall, officers — some wearing vests labeled “US Marshal” or jackets marked “FBI” — huddled under tents and next to squad cars, trying to figure out why a Saturday afternoon of shopping had been punctured by gunfire.
Brookfield Properties, owner of the Columbiana Centerdescribes the mall as “ideally located to serve the affluent and rapidly growing northern and northwest suburbs of Columbia, the capital of South Carolina and home of the University of South Carolina”.
In a statement on Twitter, mall management said: ‘Today’s isolated and senseless act of violence is extremely upsetting and our thoughts are with all those affected. We are grateful for the quick response and continued support from our security team and law enforcement partners.
A nearby hotel that was used as a site to reunite those who had fled the mall with their family members was packed after the shooting, said a woman who described the panic on people’s faces as they waited for their relatives. But a few hours later, it was mainly law enforcement officers who lingered there.