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24 Sep, 2016 02:31

5 dead, manhunt for mall shooter underway in Burlington, Washington

A manhunt is still underway after SWAT teams swept the Cascade Mall and nearby areas in Burlington, Washington for an active shooter with a rifle. The gunman, believed to have acted alone, killed five people opening fire in the Macy's make-up store.

In their latest briefing, police said that four female victims are confirmed dead, while one man was taken to hospital in a critical condition. Several hours later the man died of his wounds.

"We're doing everything we can to find this person. Stay vigilant. If you see something, just like they say, say something," said Washington State Patrol spokesman Mark Francis as quoted by local Komo News TV. "Avoid the area. If you live close to the area, stay inside - lock your doors."

A still from CCTV footage showing the suspect was also released. Francis tweeted the shooter was "armed with rifle." He reportedly entered a Macy's department store around 7pm.

Police also confirmed they are looking for a "single shooter," while some reports on Twitter suggested the attacker could have an accomplice.

Skagit County police and fire scanner audio described the suspect as appearing between 20 to 25 years old, with a "skinny build," black messy hair and wearing a black shirt.

The motives of the shooter have not yet been revealed. The FBI has been investigating the attack as a potential act of terrorism, Reuters reported.

A witness who was trapped in a fitting room at the time of the shooting says she heard the gunman yell out a woman's name while going after escaping shoppers, according to Skagit Breaking News. This is yet to be confirmed by officials.

Earlier, it was reported that a person identifying as the shooter called into police, and crisis negotiators were being assembled, according to KIRO. But later police reported several calls from various people, all claiming to be the assailant.

Besides the FBI and SWAT teams, the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was summoned to the scene.

Police evacuated the mall, which features several large retails stores, cafes and a cinema, then escorted emergency medical services inside to attend to those injured. All roads in and out of the area were closed, according to KIRO reporter Gary Horcher.

By nightfall, evacuation orders were lifted and law enforcers said they were leaving. The operation however moved to the neighborhood, where the suspect was sighted.

“I think it’s too early to call it terrorism, but it’s also too early to take that off the table," director of the Center for the Study of Extremism, Bryan Levin, told RT.

"Although, a couple of things: the fact that the casualty level is relatively low for someone who’s armed like that suggests to me that this could also be some personal issue, such as a targeted killing. But in the very early hours of these type of events, you want to make sure you have everything on the table, in case the facts change, and you need those resources."

"So, there’s certain operational reasons that one does not want to take the potentiality of terrorism off the table. But, unfortunately, most of these kinds of shootings are not terrorism-related,” Levin added.