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CNN NEWSROOM

Maryland Mall Shooting Kills Three

Aired January 25, 2014 - 13:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


K.T., COLUMBIA MALL EMPLOYEE: I don't think so. It's kind of hard to say. But -- it seemed pretty empty for the most part. I -- I guess people, you know -- I think the SWAT team was going from store to store, you know, telling people to get out because when everybody left, not all the stores closed their doors. So I think that they were still looking in each and every store trying to find the guy, I guess.

So -- you know, I don't know. It was -- it was just crazy. It's one of those things that you see on TV but you never expect to go through it.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Absolutely. All right. Well, it is crazy but it sounds like you did a great job keeping yourself and others around you safe and keeping a cool head through it all.

KT, thanks so much. Glad you're well.

K.T.: Thank you very much. Deep set out.

WHITFIELD: All right. Oliver Janney, I understand is also so on the phone with us. Is that true? Do I have Oliver Janney with us who is also at the mall? OK. Colin Ready I understand is now with us. Also an employee at the mall.

Colin, I understand you heard the shots. Tell me more.

COLIN READY, COLUMBIA MALL EMPLOYEE: Yes. We -- I was at work. I work at (INAUDIBLE). It was just a regular day, you know, we was chilling at work. And then I heard like a boom sound. So I -- go to see what was happening. And then I heard it again. Well, the first time I heard the sound, I thought it was construction because there's a lot of construction going on at the mall right now. Then I heard it again, like boom, boom, boom.

Then I saw everybody running. So we started running to the back, me and my coworkers. And I ran, I ran -- I was almost out the door, like, outside before my assistant manager call me back and she told me I had to stay there because -- I don't know why I had to stay. I wanted to leave. But she said I had to stay. So then -- yes, then she closed the gate and we were just waiting in the back room.

I heard about eight or nine shots go off completely, I think. And we were just waiting in the stock room for about 45 minutes before the Howard County Police officer came. He knocked on the door. We got people on the backdoor. So he knocked on the door said Howard County Police but he wasn't in his uniform.

So we didn't know whether to believe him or not. My assistant manager was, like, can we see a badge or something. And I don't think he had a badge or anything. So we were really scared before she decided to open the door. But she did and it was him, he let us out, and we were safe.

WHITFIELD: Boy, that was -- that's a pretty frightening sequence of events. So were other stores -- had you as an employee of the store or were other stores kind of given the same kinds of instructions, when something like this happens it's time to, you know, close the gate protecting I guess your store to what may be going on outside in the mall?

READY: I don't know. I just know, like, that was our first instinct. First we ran to the back of the store like we didn't close the gate or anything. We just ran to the back of the store trying to be safe. And we kept hearing the shots. So then we was like, wait, we need to close the gate just in case he tried to come in here or anything. So then my assistant manager crawled out there to close the gate and locked it up. And then she just came back. I don't know about the other stores, though.

WHITFIELD: And you mentioned that you, you know, you heard the boom, you know it was the gunshot sound even though at first you thought because of the construction in the area. Was there ever any yelling? Did you ever any voices --

READY: Yes. Everybody -- everybody was creaming. There were tears, running around. I saw, like, older couple, they were -- I guess they couldn't run or anything, so they were just crouched under -- like under the subway trying -- not like the subway, the store, trying to get cover or anything.

WHITFIELD: All right. And Colin, so you're no longer on the property, right? You are outside of the mall because you did get out of the mall, correct?

READY: Yes. I'm home now. They let us go.

WHITFIELD: All right. Well, Colin Ready, thank you so much and glad you're safe and thanks so much for sharing your account of events with us. Appreciate that.

Oliver Janney who's a CNN photojournalist is now on the scene. We're now looking at live images, in fact. You heard Colin and even K.T. who is (INAUDIBLE) earlier talking about how there K.T. felt so sorry for -- you know, there were a lot of children in the mall and he could see the panic and the fear that many of their parents had trying to keep them safe through it all.

Now you see people who were rather casually walking. Perhaps they were all evacuating, got the all clear from the mall.

Let's find out now from Oliver Janney, our CNN photojournalist. What you're able to learn, Oliver, is there an all-clear now? Does it appear that most people are being allowed to leave the mall or what's happening?

OLIVER JANNEY, CNN PHOTOJOURNALIST: Well, hey, Fredricka, I'm at the intersection of Windstream Drive and Governor Warfield Parkway, which is on the entrances to the Columbia Mall. I'm seeing a stream of -- what look like choppers leaving the mall. Maryland State Police are not letting anyone back into the mall.

I can't confirm that there's been an all-clear from where I am. We do have news helicopters over the mall. I did just see a U.S. Park Police helicopter take off from the parking lot over here on the Macy's side. Not sure if they're heading back to D.C. or if they're just getting up in the air to give local authorities a better view.

But as far as an all-clear, I can't confirm that from where I am. You see lots of people starting to stream out of the mall. Looks like they're driving home.

WHITFIELD: OK. So from your vantage point, you can see a lot of people on foot getting to their cars, some of those cars actually exiting the property of the mall?

JANNEY: That is correct. We've also -- from where I am, I've seen a number of apparatus from neighboring jurisdictions. We saw (INAUDIBLE) vehicle from Montgomery County respond up here, so obviously a big effort in the surrounding jurisdictions (INAUDIBLE).

WHITFIELD: And so, Oliver, as far as you can tell, because we were talking Columbia, Maryland, it's kind of sandwiched between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland. Mostly Howard County Police there on the scene. But -- are you also seeing the assistance -- you mention Park Police, you know, which is a federal law enforcement. But are you noticing whether there are markers of other jurisdictions that are there to assist?

JANNEY: I certainly am. You're seeing a response from the Washington metro area. As I said, a U.S. Park Police helicopter just departed from here. We don't normally see that aircraft up this way. Did see a command vehicle from Montgomery County pull up.

I live in Anne Arundel County, which is just east of here. And I was -- as I was driving along Route 100 to the mall, I did see a number of police cars from Anne Arundel heading this direction. So it would be safe to assume that they're coming here.

So I'm here at the entrance to the mall. There are state police blocking the entrance. They do have out their large guns out telling people they cannot enter the mall. And then we have Howard County Police blocking the exit just letting one line of cars out. I do have a live picture. I'm not sure if you guys are able to see that stream from off of an iPhone here. That's just -- a steady stream of people coming out. A couple of people wandering up on the sidewalk, wondering what's going on so the news is getting out that this is happening here. WHITFIELD: All right. Oliver Janney, thank you so much. Stand by.

For those of you who just now joining us, you're looking at some live images here outside a shopping mall. It's called The Mall in Columbia, Maryland, which is just outside by about 45 minutes in Washington, D.C., not far from Baltimore, Maryland, too.

As you look at the Google Map now kind of zoning in on it. It's a very sizable mall. You've got four big department stores. About 200 stores in all.

What took place at about 11:15 a.m. Eastern Time, is that according to Howard Police and EMS there was an active shooting underway inside that shopping mall, 11:15 a.m. Eastern Time. In the end now, fast forward a couple of hours, we understand confirmation three people have been killed in the shooting. And Howard Police and other authorities are now indicating that among those dead is believed to be the gunman. A body found near ammunition and a gun.

No identification at this juncture. But ammunition found at the location of that one dead. We've talked to a number of employees from this mall who say it was an ordinary, very busy Saturday at the shopping mall. And all of a sudden, they heard gunshots. The instincts for some of the stores was to run to a safe place, closet, storerooms inside some of those stores. Some of the patrons did the same thing.

It was the instinct of other employees at some of the stores to begin shutting the gates separating the individual stores from the regular traffic outside the mall. And then one by one, many of those stores were approached by law enforcement, some in uniform, some not in uniform to try and check on the Id of people, trying to look for any other potential active shooters and then some of these employees and some of the patrons were allowed to exit the mall.

And this has all been unfolding within the last couple of hours. Again you're looking at live images of the law enforcement, the EMS response outside of the mall. We still have not heard an all-clear in terms of whether they believe law enforcement has apprehended all of the active shooter or shooters, but we do understand that some people -- you're seeing a lot more traffic of pedestrians, people with their -- you know, holding hands with their children, moms and dads leaving the mall, going to the parking lot, getting in their cars.

You heard from our photojournalist who actually has been seeing some of those people get in their car and simply be able to exit. But no one is being allowed to enter the mall area. So we understand a press conference will take place in about six or so minutes from now. Unclear whether that will be right before the cameras, whether we'll be able to take that live, but of course we'll get the information as immediately as we can.

We also have on the phone with us right now Tom Fuentes who is formerly with the FBI. He's joining us from Fairfax, Virginia.

Tom, you know, when you live in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, whether you live in Virginia, whether you live in Maryland, whether you leave in D.C., you may frequent all of these places. I grew up in the Washington, D.C. area. I grew up going to Columbia, Maryland, mall. We heard from our photojournalist who lives there in neighboring Anne Arundel County.

And when you have any incidents that take place in that D.C. area, it means that not only do you have the local jurisdiction law enforcement, but you have neighboring authorities and sometimes you have federal authorities because we are talking about the nation's capital, the federal city.

So give me an idea, if you will, Tom, a situation like this, how you have all of these authorities working together to try to contain the situation, assist to those who are injured, apprehend those who are involved.

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Fredricka, law enforcement agencies work just like fire departments and provide mutual aid to each other when someone needs help. So it's no different with federal, state and local law enforcement. In this case, Howard County, the sheriff's office there is in charge of this case. This will be their investigation.

Everybody else that's been called by them is being called to provide some form of assistance, either sheer manpower to help set up perimeters and clear the mall, look in every closet, look in every store to make sure that they have all the people accounted for. But the fact that you're so close to a number of federal agencies doesn't give the federal agencies control of the investigation unless they automatically would have jurisdiction.

(CROSSTALK)

WHITFIELD: But they're quick to be in a supportive role.

FUENTES: Strictly supportive. If there's no indication that this was a terrorism case, then the FBI would have the lead. If it was -- you know, in certain circumstances it might be the state police or a city police in the area, but here, you know, it sounds like Howard County has the jurisdiction and the Howard County sheriff, therefore, will run the investigation and will direct the other assets from other agencies as they arrive to provide assistance.

WHITFIELD: OK. Tom, I'm going to ask you to just hold tight for a minute. I know we have you on the phone. But we are expecting a news conference in a matter of minutes there out of Howard County involving this shooting. Three people confirmed dead. It's believed, according to authorities, that among the dead is at least one gunman whose body was found near ammunition and near the gun. But no ID as of yet.

So again, in just a couple of minutes, there will be a press conference or some sort of briefing.

Tom Fuentes, if I could just have you hold tight on the phone from Fairfax, Virginia. We're going to take a short break and we'll have much more on this mall shooting in Columbia, Maryland, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. Any moment now, we understand that Howard County Police in Maryland will have a press briefing trying to give us the latest information on a shooting taking place, a deadly shooting taking place at The Mall in Columbia, Maryland outside of Washington, D.C. and not far from Baltimore, Maryland.

Three confirmed dead. It's believed authorities say that among the dead is one shooter whose body was located near ammunition and a gun. We have not received any identification of the three people. Just confirmation that three have been killed.

We also understand, as you continue to look at a lot of live images of the exterior of the mall, a number of people are being allowed to exit. We have seen a number of children holding the hands with their parents as they exited.

This, of course, is Saturday in the middle of the day. Busy day for shopping. We have heard from a number of employees who were at the mall at the time of the shooting. They heard the gunshots. Naturally, some of the shoppers came into the stores looking for safe places. Closets, storage rooms. Employees did the same thing. And then, of course, were approached by offices whether they be plainclothes or even in uniform.

And a lot of the employees talk about the confusion that came when some of the plainclothes officers came to the stores looking for ID, trying to identify, and even the employees having the natural instinct to question the authorities, not even sure who would be responsible for the shooting.

But in the end, a number of folks have been able to exit. Employees, shoppers leave the mall safely and have quite the story to tell about harrowing accounts there at a day of shopping on a Saturday at The Mall in Columbia, Maryland.

Of course, when the press conference takes place, we'll be able to try and get that information to you as immediately. If not -- I have a signal to show you the press conference when it happens, from Howard County Police.

Meantime, Judy Hoffman was a shopper in the mall. She's on the phone with us now.

So Judy, where are you now?

JUDY HOFFMAN, MANAGER, FIRE AND ICE: Actually, I'm not a shopper. I'm a manager at Fire and Ice at the Columbia Mall.

WHITFIELD: OK.

HOFFMAN: And near Nordstrom Fire and Ice is a very unique, fascinating store. We sell jewelries, fossils.

WHITFIELD: OK.

HOFFMAN: A number of different --

(CROSSTALK)

WHITFIELD: So what happened? What happened while you were in the store today?

HOFFMAN: Well, when I was in the store, I -- all of a sudden I was waiting on a customer and I happened to see people running toward Nordstrom, which is one of the anchor stores that's close to us. And I said, what's going on, why is everybody running, so I stepped out to the door and asked one of the girls running what's going on. She said there's been a shooting.

And at that time I said, oh my gosh, I came in. I left my customers know that for their safety they were allowed to walk the hallway or go out to Nordstrom's because I knew it was in the food court. So at that time, we closed the door. You know, I contacted our director of sales and let her know what was going on. And we were in the backroom waiting.

You know, we turned off our lights and, you know, stayed in the back room to wait for further information while she was on, you know, looking at the TV trying to find some information out. But the mall did finally contact us approximately about 12:30, quarter to 1:00 to let us know --

WHITFIELD: How? How did they contact you? What do you mean?

HOFFMAN: They called -- I had -- well, there's a service that they have here and they know on your phone, at that store, on your personal phone, but it took a while. I had to find out what was going on before, you know, they called us. So --

WHITFIELD: And what was the message that they conveyed to you on your personal phone?

HOFFMAN: The message that they conveyed to me was that you are to -- there has been, you know, an incident in the mall. We advise you to close your doors and seek shelter in your backrooms if possible.

WHITFIELD: OK. And you already knew to do that you're saying, though? By the time you received that, you already had that instruction from your store that you're to close the door, seek shelter in a closed room or closet, though, correct?

HOFFMAN: Absolutely. I mean, that's the rule of thumb. You know, you close your door. You -- you know, get people to safety. I knew it was on the other side of the mall, so I knew it was, you know, OK for us to close the door and, you know, make that phone call.

WHITFIELD: OK. And how long --

HOFFMAN: In the meantime I did have the call the police to --

WHITFIELD: Yes. Go ahead.

HOFFMAN: To let -- I did call 911 to see if it was true. Sometimes you just don't know what goes on if it's, you know, true or not because I don't hear -- I didn't hear any shots. That's on the other side of the mall.

WHITFIELD: Yes.

HOFFMAN: So once I called Howard County Police, they did say, yes, ma'am, you know, please seek shelter. And the mall did call back again not too long ago.

WHITFIELD: OK.

HOFFMAN: And said that they will be around to escort us out of the mall.

WHITFIELD: Sounds like good -- it sounds like good instincts. Because of the sign of the times, just when I'm talking to you another -- a number of other employees. It seems like good instincts have just kicked in about knowing what to do, knowing when to question or even doubt what you're hearing, and wanting to check it out and double check for yourself.

So for how long do you believe you may have been, you know, in that safe place in the store before you got an all-clear and in what way did you receive an all-clear that it's time for you to exit safely?

HOFFMAN: We're not clear yet.

WHITFIELD: You're -- OK.

HOFFMAN: We're still -- we're still in our store right now. I -- you know, I have an associate that works for me that's here right now with me and we're just waiting for the police, which I just heard that they're on their way on this side of the mall. Because this incident happened on the other side of the mall. So we're just waiting for them to come and give us the OK and escort us out of my building.

WHITFIELD: Interesting. OK. And what are you hearing? You know, what kind of sounds, noises, what are you hearing while you continue to stay in your store? You know, is there -- are you hearing, you know, the voices of police? Can you tell what's going on outside of your store just (INAUDIBLE)?

HOFFMAN: I did hear -- probably approximately about a half an hour ago, I did hear the helicopter land on -- I'm assuming on our roof to come and get those people or investigator or whatever happened over there. I don't know. I'm just hearing what you're saying on CNN.

WHITFIELD: OK.

HOFFMAN: You know, it's quiet. Like I said, I'm near the -- I'm at an anchor store. I'm at the -- you know, near an anchor store so it's -- you know, everybody -- there's still people upstairs. I can look out and see people in their stores waiting for the police to come and get us out.

WHITFIELD: OK. Judy, great talk. Can I ask you to just hold on for a moment and not disconnect because I want to continue our conversation in a moment? But right now our CNN's Erin McPike is there at the mall. Oh darn. It looks like we lost that signal.

All right, so, Tom Fuentes, formerly with the FBI also with us out of Fairfax, Virginia.

So, Tom, I don't know how much of the conversation you were able to hear with Judy. But if you were able to hear it, and she talks about, you know, hearing the gunshots, knowing that there was something going on but not really certain about what and calling 911 herself to ask for confirmation. It seems as though her instincts were pretty impeccable as have been the instincts of other employees and on how they responded to the shooting.

What's your impression, Tom?

FUENTES: Yes, I had the same impression, Fredricka, that she was very composed and took the right actions based on what she had heard. And after having received the warning from the mall system, then tried to confirm with the police herself. So I think she -- you know, she responded correctly all the way through in that situation.

WHITFIELD: So, Tom, what does -- the information that we have thus far, what does it tell you about what could have happened here? We talked earlier about how, you know, some federal law enforcement would respond. They're not necessarily involved. What does this tell you about what Howard Police may have on their hands here?

FUENTES: Well, it tells me that they're looking at this as a homicide. And possibly a homicide with a suicide. In any event, a death investigation that does not appear to involve either international or domestic terrorism or organized crime or an international drug cartel. If you ruled those things out you're ruling out federal jurisdiction and then the homicide itself remains up to Howard County to be in charge of the investigation.

WHITFIELD: And earlier you talked about how this is a painstaking process. It would take a very long time to give an all-clear to lift the lockdown completely on this investigation. There are a lot of things that have to take place during this investigation trying to secure this location. What are some of those steps that have to be taken before authorities feel comfortable that a lockdown can be lifted and that business could resume per usual?

FUENTES: Well, the fact that you have 200 stores means you have 200 backrooms, 200 storage closets. You would have other mall utility closets that would have to be searched. The duct torque, the heating plant, you know, where any of those kinds of utilities are. Someone may have run in there to hide when they heard the shooting, or another shooter could always run somewhere and hide. Also you'll have the investigation of the individuals who have been located and are dead and including the individual that they believe may be the shooter. They'll be trying to see if that person has identification, if he has a cell phone or other device on him that would, you know, have information of communication, who he may have been talking to leading up to the event by telephone, by Internet, by e-mail. So that will continue.

Then -- then, of course, it will -- it will be a different process looking at all of the security cameras from every store and from the mall itself. And that would include inside the stores, inside the common areas of the mall, the walkways, the entry ways as well as the vehicles in the parking lot.

And they'll try and reconstruct the steps taken by the shooter and/or if there are others that they may believe may be involved, other shooters, and try to trace that person from the time he or she arrived at the mall as they walked through the mall into the location or to the location that has now become the crime scene.

So all of that investigation will continue, you know, by many people. It will involve a lot of extra help and that's why Howard County would reach out for the state police, for neighboring local law enforcement agencies and if necessary, other federal agencies to provide assistance.

WHITFIELD: And in a situation like this, once people have been questioned, you know, probed inside, will they be releasing, you know, patrons, you know, shoppers, employees in phases? Because we are seeing -- you know, every now and then we see a stream of people, but not all at once. You see it in, you know, little dribbles.

FUENTES: Well, yes. And I think you interviewed earlier an individual that was in the mall and has been allowed to leave and go home. And so others have been allowed to leave and go home.

As I mentioned earlier, they're not going to want to keep hundreds and hundreds of people held in that mall indefinitely while it continues to search. It's just it requires extra manpower that they don't need to waste on that kind of effort. And you know, they're not going to want to inconvenient innocent people anymore than necessary for the conducting of the investigation.

So in this situation, as they determine and use their judgment that an individual is not involved, is not a victim, is not a witness, just happened to be in the mall, either employee or shopper they're going to let them go. And that's what we've been seen already. They've been letting them leave the premises.

WHITFIELD: Of course we're looking at the aerial shot while the majority of the activities inside the mall or investigation rather is inside the mall. We could see that it's very snowy there. One has to wonder how if at all would weather like this impact the investigation or law enforcement's business there.

FUENTES: I don't think it will. I mean unless they come up with a vehicle to search outside that's parked in the mall, you know, then they would probably tow it to an indoor location to do a comprehensive forensic examination of it. But barring that, if the crime scene is endorsed, then the weather outside won't impact on it.

WHITFIELD: And a mall like this, of this size, would there be cameras on the exterior and if so to what extent, throughout the parking lot or is it, you know, a very narrow scope just outside the door's entry point and exit point of a mall like this.

FUENTES: Now as we've seen in other investigations at malls and major shopping locations, cameras are everywhere. So you'll have -- the stores themselves will have cameras inside. At least most of them will. And then the mall will have cameras at the entry points, in the common walkway areas, in the center of the mall, and then also in the parking lot. And we've seen this in the past that there will be outdoor cameras focused probably on the entire parking lot.

So they should have the ability to have a pretty good look at it. Now it may be difficult from those cameras to determine if the person was wearing winter clothing and had the face covered as he or she went into the mall. It may not be easy to actually pick that person out.

WHITFIELD: OK.

FUENTES: But that's the effort that they'll be making now is to try to identify the single shooter or more than one person that's involved and retrace their steps all the way to -- back to where they arrived at the mall in the first place.

WHITFIELD: All right. Thank you so much, Tom Fuentes. I know you're not going to go far. We may be turning to you again.

Momentarily, though, we're going to go to our Erin McPike, CNN correspondent who's there outside the mall. A snowy Columbia, Maryland, right now. And just be patient with us at home because there is a great delay on our communication.

But, Erin, take it away, what are you hearing and learning?

ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, in about five minutes or so, we believe that there is going to be a press conference to start just right here. Any minute now. I guess we're seeing officials come. So we're going to jump out of the way pretty soon as soon as they come to tell us what happened.

I have talked to a number of people who were inside at the time. They were on the second level. We understand that the shooting was on the food court level which is the bottom level which is between the Sears and the JCPenney right behind me here. And I'm going to get out of the way because we've got this press conference starting Fred. So obviously we will bring that to you and any other details that we get in just a few minutes.

WHITFIELD: All right. Thank you so much, Erin McPike.

So in a moment, they are about to get started and we'll take that live as it happens.

Again, Howard Police there presumably handing out some flyers -- some information and elaborating further as soon as they were to take the microphone. But again if you're just now joining us three confirmed dead at this mall shooting at the mall in Columbia, Maryland, outside of Washington, D.C.

Let's see if we can hear what she has to say.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. So please keep in mind we are about two hours into this investigation, OK. We are already hearing with you everything that we've been able to so far. Please stay on top of following our Twitter account @hcpdnews. We are posting minute by minute information, @hcpdnews, for all details as we update throughout the afternoon.

First, right now we're going to hear from our County Executive Ken Ulman and our chief of police Bill McMahon. They will take some questions, but again we're sharing every detail we know right now. So there are going to be things that they're not going to be able to answer for you at this point. We expect to do another briefing at 4:00 and hopefully we'll have more information at that time.

I'm going to turn it over now to County Executive Ken Ulman.

KEN ULMAN, HOWARD COUNTY EXECUTIVE: Thanks. Thank you all for being here.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can you say your name one more time?

ULMAN: Sure. Ken Ulman, K-E-N, U-L-M-A-N, I'm the county executive here in Howard County, Maryland.

Listen, I want to just make a few points. First of all, we do have three confirmed fatalities. So we want to send our thoughts and prayers to the family members of the victims, the loved ones of the victims.

I want to thank the public of Howard County here in Columbia for their patience. The folks here at the Columbia Mall for their patience. All of the shoppers, the other folks that work here at the mall, this has obviously been a tremendously trying few hours and we've seen a lot of -- a lot of patience.

We'd ask that people continue to bear with us. This is an active crime scene. It is going to be an active crime scene for some time. And we will give you another briefing around 4:00 with more details and potentially when the mall will reopen.

Lastly, I want to thank our brave men and women in law enforcement here in Howard County who rushed into the scene immediately. This was an incredibly well-run, thoughtful operation tactically with a lot of help from our neighboring agencies. We've had help on the ground and continue to have help on the ground from virtually every police department in our region including the state police. And we really appreciate that. Now I want to bring up our police chief, Bill McMahon, who's been leading this operation on the ground. Thank you.

CHIEF BILL MCMAHON, HOWARD COUNTY POLICE: Thank you, Mr. Executive. Bill McMahon, M-C-M-A-H-O-N. I'm the chief of police here in Howard County.

Let me just echo a couple of thoughts from the county executive before I give you some details. Thank you for your patience. As you can imagine this is a very complex and trying scene for everybody that's involved. And I know it's also causes great concern in the community. So we -- again, we thank our communities for their patience and their understanding. And for our friends in the media, we certainly appreciate your understanding as well.

We are giving you and have given you information as soon as we received it. Because we know how much of a concern there is when something like this happens in such a public place as the mall.

So about 11:15 this morning, our 911 center received a number of calls for shots fired at the Columbia Mall. We had officers quickly get into the area. And we're able to identify three victims at an upper level store in the Columbia Mall. One of those victims appears to be the shooter. And at this point, and again, please bear with me. This is two hours -- two hours and 15 minutes into the incident.

There's still a lot of details that we need to confirm. But right now we think that one of the deceased is, in fact, the shooter. We do not think there's any -- at this point that there's any more shooters in or around the mall. We are going through our process right now and please think about this on a Saturday afternoon at the mall, how many people may be in there.

When something like this happens, people run in many directions and they also do what -- actually we've trained people to do and that's to shelter in place. So right now, we have many, many people still in the mall that have secured themselves inside stores.

Our SWAT teams with a lot of support from agencies throughout the state -- at the local state and federal level frankly, are going through -- as we are holding this press conference, they are inside continuing to clear that mall to make sure there are no more victims. We do think there are. But we want to make sure there are not.

And to get those people that have self sheltered in place out and make sure none of them have any injuries either from the shooting, again, we don't think there are any, but also any injuries that may have occurred in that process, that panic when people do shelter.

So that's what is going on actively behind me in the mall as we are out here. We do not have the identity of the victims yet. We do not have a motive for the shooting. Again, this is two hours and 15 minutes into the scene. We are still trying to secure the mall to make sure, again, that there's nobody else injured.

And then we are getting our investigators into that crime scene to start doing their work which will enable me to answer some of those many questions you have that frankly I just can't answer right now because I don't have the information. So I'll take a few questions. But before I do -- before I do, let me again thank the Columbia Mall that has been nothing but a fantastic partner. We have a great relationship with them and actually have drilled on this in the past. And that experience has been very beneficial to us.

We'd like to thank, again, our public for their patience. We have disrupted a lot of people. I know there's a lot of people at home concerned about the well-being of their -- of their family who may be at the mall. We understand that. That's why we're working as quickly as we can to identify the victims. So we can give people a peace of mind. We understand that.

And I'd also again like to thank all the support we've had from law enforcement, emergency management, fire departments, again, local, state and federal level.

I'll take a few questions.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can you provide the genders at least?

MCMAHON: I cannot provide the genders or the ages.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can -- Police Chief, can you describe where this exactly happened in the food court and what types of weapons were found?

MCMAHON: I didn't say it was at the food court. I said it was at the upper level of the mall, at a store. I'm not going to identify which store that is right now.

And your other question was?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What types of weapons were recovered?

MCMAHON: Again, we have not gotten our investigators in there to identify all that yet. Yes, sir?

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Is there a sense that there was a domestic issue involved here?

MCMAHON: As I said --

(CROSSTALK)

MCMAHON: As I said earlier, we don't know a motive yet. And I appreciate the question, I understand the interest in it. Please understand what we're trying to deal with. Our investigators haven't gotten a chance to get in there to identify people yet to even go to a motive.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Have been speaking to witnesses, do they give an indication of there was an argument, there was altercation, even people somehow knew each other or a random event where somebody pulled a gun and starts shooting?

MCMAHON: Yes, I -- yes, I don't have that information yet. Our investigators are still talking to witnesses and I just don't have that information yet.

(CROSSTALK)

MCMAHON: We are -- excuse me, we are very confident that it was a single shooter, that there's no other shooters in the mall or anything like that.

(CROSSTALK)

MCMAHON: Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Did law enforcement fire in this at all?

MCMAHON: We have not.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can you describe the scene as you understand it? The mall, 11:15 -- did this shooting happen were there were a lot of people around? We've had people tell us they saw people drop.

MCMAHON: It was in a store in the upper level of the mall. You know how many people, I'm sure, are in this mall on a Saturday afternoon. It's a chaotic scene. I don't have all the particulars about where people were when this happened. And we will get that to you as quickly as we can.

Believe me, I understand the importance of those questions and we will get them to you as soon as we can.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: How do you think people responded in the mall? How do you think they did? Were they pretty well prepared the public or --

MCMAHON: Yes, I don't have enough information to know. But I sense that because we have so many that sheltered in place that they did what they thought they did and they don't know if we encourage people in one of these situations, so again, two hours into it, not having to talk to these people, some of these people still in there. You know, I don't know. But I -- you know, the fact that it's fairly -- you know, we didn't have stampedes and we didn't have anyone else injured through that whole evacuation process so we're very grateful.

Yes, ma'am. UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Are the witnesses in the mall, are they free to go? Are you asking them to go to a specific place to be questioned?

MCMAHON: Our detectives are talking with the people as they come out of the mall to see what they saw, what they did, and then -- and we'll continue to talk to them.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: OK. And that's clear. Do we -- is this situation where someone shot two people and shot himself -- him or herself?

MCMAHON: Two hours and 15 minutes into that, that is what we have reason to believe, but again, very fluid situation. Many people have not been spoken to yet, so I can't confirm that but that is certainly what it appears to be at this point.

(CROSSTALK)

MCMAHON: I'm sorry?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: How many shots are fired?

MCMAHON: I don't know how many shots were fired.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Was this isolated inside --

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Responding officers, did they find all three dead at that point, the first team -- the first group in?

MCMAHON: Yes, I'm not sure what order. But, yes, essentially, they were all found kind of at the same time.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Nowadays the presumption from the police department was so get -- was it regular patrol officers? Did you wait for a SWAT team? What happened first?

MCMAHON: Regular patrol officers went in. We also had some other specially trained officers, part of our SWAT team that were in this area for another assignment. So we're fortunate to have those very well prepared, very well trained officers to support our patrol officers very, very quickly. So it was not a situation in which we were waiting to go in there. We went there very quickly.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you have any idea how long from the first 911 call to the first officer on the scene?

MCMAHON: Yes, I don't know, but I'll make sure we have that for you at 4:00.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You know --

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Isolated into one store?

MCMAHON: Turn out all the activity took place at one in one store.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: To clarify what you're saying before, when the first police found the (INAUDIBLE) the deceased shooter, he was deceased at that time, have you talked to the person who's investigating --

MCMAHON: That's my understanding at this point. So that's all the questions that I'll take right now. Again, we'll be back at 4:00. Believe me, I'm very sensitive to the need to get these questions answered. We will do our best to come back in -- at 4:00 and answer more then for you. So again, thank you for your patience. Thanks (INAUDIBLE) to get the word out to our community. Appreciate it.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Were the two others injured --

WHITFIELD: All right. You're listening to Howard County Police Chief Bill McMahon there describe that it is believed that there was just one shooter. He says he is confident that there was a single shooter, and all three people have -- are dead at that mall shooting taking place about 11:15 Eastern Time earlier today.

He says among those dead, that single shooter. He would not reveal the age or gender -- ages or gender of any of the three. He did say that they continue to try to secure the mall because it appears that many people did what they have been instructed to do, which is find a safe, secure place.

So they continue to -- law enforcement continues to scour through the mall looking for any people who may be still in storage areas or closets doing all the things that people are supposed to do to try and stay safe.

Mike Brooks, security analyst with CNN, is back with me now on the phone.

This is a jurisdiction, an area that you're familiar with, the Washington, D.C. area. We heard from the police chief talking about the cooperative effort involving state, local -- local law enforcement and even federal agencies there. But it appears as though Howard County Police is taking the lead on this investigation.

Again, though, Mike there are still some people, shoppers, employees that are still in that mall because it's going to take some time to secure the area. What did you hear from that press conference that you thought was particularly compelling?

MIKE BROOKS, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Well, from just -- from the very, very time they got the 911 call, Fred, to -- you know, to the time the officers were there on the scene, patrol officers, and then some of the more highly-trained SWAT members who he said happened to be in the area working on another assignment.

You know, but right now I can tell you that I'm listening to what's going on there at the scene. And they've got about 90 percent of the stores now cleared. But they've got -- he talked -- the two great man talked about the cooperation with local, state and federal.

I can tell you, they've got tactical teams there, Fred, from Anne Arundel County, Maryland State Police, Prince George's County, Montgomery County, U.S. Marshall Service, Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and Baltimore County, that are part of these teams that are clearing this entire mall. As I said, it's about 90 percent clear.

And I'm also listening they are -- as they're bringing witnesses down, they're meeting with, as the chief said, with members of the Criminal Investigation Bureau of the Howard County Police for statements in that kind of thing. So again, methodical as Tom Fuentes and I were talking about it, slow methodical process, but it's one that has to be done just to make sure that that whole mall is cleared before -- you know, they can move on and process it as a crime scene.

WHITFIELD: And of course, as they continue to investigate, the police chief saying there that at this juncture it's unclear about the motive. Unclear whether there was an argument prior to the shooting. Unclear about the relationship between the shooter and the victims in this case. And of course, there continues to be some questioning that has to involve those who may have been injured and transported to the hospitals.

And I think as we look at some images right now, Mike, it's unclear whether those appear to be shoppers that have -- been allowed to exit the building or whether that's law enforcement from this vantage point. But you did hear the police chief, you know, underscore that people are being allowed to leave piece by piece but of course not all at once but I'm not sure how many people are still on the mall.

BROOKS: No, it looks to me like these are -- these are shoppers and possibly employees that they're allowing to leave. In fact, right before the press conference, the woman that you're speaking with moments ago, Judy.

WHITFIELD: Right.

BROOKS: She had to hang up because one of the SWAT teams was there to get them out of the store and to bring them to safety. So, again, that -- and she said that she's on the opposite end. But -- so that just tells you the, you know, specific nature that the SWAT teams are going through each one of the stores and bringing everyone out to safety.

And as you heard the chief say that investigators are asking people as they're -- as they're leaving, you know, if you saw something or heard something that they want to be interviewed.

WHITFIELD: Right. And you know what, in a case like this, and now you can see more clearly those people, they've got handbags and -- BROOKS: Yes.

WHITFIELD: You know, different color clothing so it's clear that these are shoppers. So, you know, in a case like that, would law enforcement get the names and numbers of everybody upon exit just in case they have questions that need to be asked later?

BROOKS: Not everybody. You know, they probably -- I know when we would have an incident like this, we would thought we would get an area where the people who are closest to the shooting that would have the most information, we would want to take formal statements from them.

Other people we would go ahead and try to get their names. People who were in close proximity. But if you had somebody who is at the opposite end and all they heard were shots, they're not going to need their names, addresses to contact them later.

But more -- you know, more specifically the people who were closest to the incident when it occurred and maybe had some contact with the shooter as the shooter was coming into the -- into mall.

WHITFIELD: OK. All right, Mike, and we also have some new images coming. If you're able to see it, these images show SWAT team members that are entering the mall or at least entering that property. We did hear from the police chief underscore that, you know, SWAT teams were involved here.

What would be their role in a case like this?

BROOKS: They're working as teams. You will see the teams going in. That's one of the teams that I was speaking about from the different jurisdictions that would go in as a four or five-person team. And they're the ones who were clearing the stores. They're the ones -- I'm listening to the command post, it's very well organized, systematic search of this different stores and storage areas in the mall.

And, you know, each store has -- each team has a specific assignment. And they would go into, let's say, JCPenney, they get done with that, they say -- you're JCPenney, we're moving on to this particular score. And if was Anne Arundel or Baltimore County, they would identify themselves and -- to the command post and again very, very well-run orderly operation that I've been listening to.

We see a Maryland State trooper right there in his tactical gear that's (INAUDIBLE) there. We have the FBI, ATF that are all there. Again, assisting as Tom Fuentes said on the federal side, just assisting Howard County just because of the sheer size of this mall and of the possible crime scene.

And, you know, but Howard County is in the lead. Their criminal investigative bureau are going to be the ones who are going to be investigating this. But when you have such a large -- a large scene as this, you need as many tactical elements as you can. And that's why they have such a great relationship in the Washington, Baltimore, D.C. area when it comes to mutual aid of law enforcement. You know, we're two hours into this and you have all these jurisdictions that are already there suited up in the process of searching this mall. I say that just is an unbelievable operation.

WHITFIELD: Yes. Typically great cooperation. This exemplifies that from what we can tell.

Mike Brooks, thanks so much. Don't go far away. We're going to check in with our Erin McPike.

And you know, and remarkably here, Erin, while there is this concert of law enforcement working together, you know, folks who live in that area, the last thing they would think of something like this happening at the mall in Columbia, a mall I frequented as a kid. It's certainly a place that people even into this day feel like it's a very safe, you know, very close-knit community there, the Mall in Columbia.

And you still heard from a number of the shopper and the employees that we've had a chance to talk to. Even though nothing like this is expected to happen there, they all instinctively seemed to know what to do, try and find a safe place within the stores, within the mall. And the police chief underscored that, you know, he applauds that many knew to take shelter -- shelter in place. And that's what people did.

Erin, tell us more about what you're learning, what you're eyewitnessing there outside this mall.

MCPIKE: Well, Fred, as you said people obviously very surprised at what happened at this place. And one of our producers here said he was on his way to come and have lunch here. He comes here all the time. He tells us that's there's usually a police car parked between the JCPenney and the Sears, and that it is very secured. There are often police officers inside the mall. So it's -- yes, it is very safe. But as you mentioned people did shelter in place right away.

Now we have spoken to a number of people who were inside the mall at the time who heard shots. Many people didn't see much of anything, they just heard -- I talked to one woman who said she heard three shots. Another woman who said she heard eight to 10 shots, but as soon as all of these people heard shots they immediately ran into stores, to shelter in place. Some of them obviously are still inside. Talked to a couple who were there for an hour.

But they're methodically letting people out of the mall and taking them on buses to other locations, Fred, but that is still ongoing. We're supposed to have another press conference at about 4:00 this afternoon when we should get some more details. But the police chief wasn't ready to give many more details because obviously the investigation is still going on.

WHITFIELD: OK. And, Erin, just to explain to our viewers, there is a great delay between our communication so there's nothing wrong with your television set at home, but earlier, the police chief talked about the fact that he can't release the gender, even the names or the identity of the bodies, but he said they are most certain that it appears to have been just -- he says, in his words, he's confident there was a single shooting, a single shooter involved here and that the other two people, we don't know the stories as to how they were victimized in this case, but this is what he had to say earlier about the victims and the suspected shooter.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCMAHON: So about 11:15 this morning, our 911 center received a number of calls for shots fired at the Columbia Mall. We had officers quickly get into the area and we were able to identify three victims at an upper level store in the Columbia Mall. One of those victims appears to be the shooter. And at this point and, again, please, bear with me. This is two hours -- two hours and 15 minutes into the incident. There's still a lot of details we need to confirm, but right now we think that one of the deceased is in fact the shooter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right. Erin McPike now, you mentioned that outside of the mall where you're standing you are seeing some of the customers or perhaps even employees who were allowed to exit, and I can't help but notice when they do exit everyone is walking in a single file.

Do you know whether that is -- you know, the instruction everyone is given? You have to walk in a single file until they're escorted either to those shuttle buses, as you mentioned, or to their vehicles?

MCPIKE: Well, Fred, we did see that as well, from the very beginning, an hour to an hour and a half ago, those single file lines. We -- we tried to talk to some of those people as they were coming out of the store and -- getting on to those buses, but we were shooed away, basically from them, so that they could get on to those buses. So I think they were trying to do that in an orderly fashion as you mentioned.

But -- that's still happening now. I mean, I guess you can maybe see in some of our other images that is still going on, but, Fred, you know, we talked to a lot of people, too, who came out without coats on. Just happening as they can get out. So we'll see as more people come out. But I think it's going to be going on for another couple of hours.

WHITFIELD: OK. All right. Thanks so much. It is a painstaking process and the police chief underscored that.

Erin McPike, thank you so much.

Very cold and snowy there in Columbia, Maryland, where now it continues to be an investigative scene on what is a crime scene there at the mall in Columbia, Maryland, outside of Washington, D.C. Not far from Baltimore as well.

You're looking at the live images right now. Law enforcement outside the mall. Three confirmed dead. One believed to be the shooter, according to police there. We're going to continue to keep tabs on this situation here. We'll have much more of our coverage right here from the NEWSROOM right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

WHITFIELD: Welcome back to the NEWSROOM. We continue to watch the developments in a crime scene at a shopping mall in Howard County, Maryland. Just outside Washington, D.C. Not far from Baltimore, Maryland, at the Mall in Columbia, Maryland, where police are now confirming three people are dead. And police are saying they're confident that one of the dead is the shooter, which they believe there was only a single shooter in this situation.

However, there continued to be shoppers and even employees in the mall. The mall has not been considered secure. It has not been emptied of people. It is a painstaking process. It will take some time.

The shooting taking place at 11:15 a.m., at least that's when the first 911 call came in, according to Howard County Police. And now just over two hours after the fact, many people have been allowed, escorted to exit the mall after being checked and double checked. Every corner of this mall is being investigated. Looked at because many people, just naturally, their instincts kicked into high gear.

They sheltered in place, whether they found closets or storage rooms inside stores. Many of the store managers and employees shut the gates and the doors of their stores separating themself off to the mall, but we understand according to Howard County Police, the shooting taking place in a store on the second floor.

Many people heard gunshots and that's when their instincts kicked in, finding those secure, safe locations, but in the end, it appears, though, police are now treating this as a crime scene. They say there are three bodies. They will not release the information about the genders or the ages of these bodies. They're not releasing the identification of these bodies as yet.

We've got team coverage under way right now. We've got our own Erin McPike who is there outside the shopping mall. We have our security analyst, Mike Brooks, who's checked in with us, and checking his sources. We also have former FBI employee Tom Fuentes, who's also with us. He's back with us, in fact, now out of Fairfax, Virginia.

So, Tom, while the police chief made it very clear they are not ready to give an all-clear yet. There are still people inside. This is a methodical process, they have to be very careful. While the police chief said he is confident there was a single shooter, it's still unclear whether anybody else involved in this crime may still be in the mall.

So give us an idea of just how law enforcement works together on this, because there are many jurisdictions involved here, and how Howard County Police take the lead to try to make sure that everyone they're in contact with in the mall is an innocent bystander, so to speak.

FUENTES: Well, first of all, Fredricka, I think the fact that Chief McMahon said that they believe there's no other person involved, that's a pretty strong statement to make. And so I don't think it's just sheer speculation. They've got enough investigation that's been conducted by his people to make a determination that that one person or one or --