Employees, shoppers react to shooting in Columbia Mall

Lauryn Stapleton was near the food court on the ground floor of the Mall in Columbia when she heard the first shots ring. 

"It sounded like somebody dropped something real heavy off the top ledge," Stapleton said.  "Then I heard someone say shots fired."

Then a few rounds went off...

"It was chaos," she said. "Everybody started running, screaming. I almost passed out because I couldn't breathe."

Stapleton, 18, and a receptionist at Cartoon Cuts inside the mall, said she ran to the nearby Sears department store and told a group of people what was happening. 

"I grabbed the kids that I saw and told them to follow me and we ran," Stapleton said. "I saw the people drop. I didn't know what to do. I ran as best as I could into Sears and told them what happened. Then I ran to my job as shots were still going, to go protect the kids."

Ten kids between the ages of 2 months and 5 years old were inside the salon when Stapleton returned. 

"We didn't know what to tell them, because they were so young," Stapleton said. 

One of the children started to panic. 

"We just held him and told him that it's OK," Stapleton said. "A guy from SWAT came in from GNC and kicked the door down. He got us. He told us to put our hands up and got us out." 

Outside, Stapleton reunited with her mother. 

"She came up to me and bear hugged me," she said. 

Stapleton was one of thousands of mall employees and Saturday shoppers who had to be escorted out of the mall by armed SWAT police officers. 

At 11:15 a.m., the first 911 call came through Howard County police dispatchers. Howard County police officers were commended by County Executive Ken Ulman for immediately responding to the emergency ahead of SWAT officers' arrival. 

Howard County Police Chief William J. McMahon confirmed at around 2:15 p.m. that three people were dead – the shooter among them. He expressed confidence at the Saturday afternoon press conference that there was only one shooter involved and that the surrounding Columbia area was safe. 

Knowing things were safe was not  a luxury of Eugene Beckley as he got off a bus outside of the mall 

"Literally, as soon as I got off the bus, I heard there was a shooting at the mall," Beckley said. "There was a parade of cops coming into the mall.

"I was completely afraid," Beckley, a 25-year-old Columbia resident, said. "I took the bus. I have nowhere else to go. It was crazy. I have never seen anything like it. I'm in shock."

With nowhere to go, Beckley stood by and watched the scene unfold outside the mall. 

"There were people coming out. But they were coming out in small droves," Beckley said. "But, when they came out they were high-tailing it. It was crazy. Cops were trying to get people who were out here to stay on the curb. But, there were people who wanted to know if they had people inside."

Meanwhile, George Miles was standing outside of the AT&T store on the second floor of the two-story mall where he works on Saturdays. He said he was standing above what he thought was the shooting. He said he saw at least one person go down and another person standing over. 

"It started off with one – boom boom – at least altogether around eight," Miles said. "I was talking to the guy next to me and he was saying every day, every month, there's some type of random shooting. And right now we don't know why. It's sad." 

The normally heavy-trafficked mall came under police control within minutes. Mall employees and customers were told to stay in stores. 

"Thirty minutes later they told us to come out," Miles said. "SWAT teams were standing in front of the door. Another team was in front of the Starbucks, and they had one guy in front of the glass doors. Everything was synchronized. They were all just looking out. Then they told us to get out the front. Get out. Get out."

Tonya Broughton, of Lanham, didn't wait for police to tell her to run. She was at the mall Saturday for a "girls' day" with her friend. The two were getting a facial from a mall kiosk when they heard the first shots. 

"I had a facemask on my face as we started running," Broughton said.  "I just grabbed what I could and just kept running. … Your mind can't process that quickly enough to know what to do."

Officials said they would issue updates via the police department's Twitter account: @HCPDNews

Stay with ABC2 News as we continue to update this story,

 

This story has been updated to more accurately reflect the comments of George Miles. 

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