A shooting at a suburban US mall that sent hundreds of panicked shoppers fleeing started as an argument between rival gang members inside the mall and later erupted in gunfire outside, leaving two people wounded, police said Monday (Tuesday NZ time).
Two 19-year-old men were arrested on suspicion of attempted aggravated murder, but investigators are not yet sure if either of them fired the shots that hit the victims, who were also involved in the fight, said Kenny Bass, a police spokesman in the Salt Lake City suburb of Murray.
Shots were fired by the both sides, and those injured were believed to be people with the gangs. No bystanders were hit or injured, Bass said.
Compounding the pandemonium, a fire alarm at the Fashion Place mall that had been malfunctioning for days went off inside the mall, sending people running for exits, Bass said.
Shoppers reported hearing the alarm after the shooting started about 1.30pm (local time) and evacuation orders over a loudspeaker, while employees said they hunkered down in stockrooms and waited.
The first alarm was inadvertent and happened seconds before the shooting from the food court, triggering a subsequent message on the loudspeaker that it was false, said Lindsay Kahn, spokeswoman for Chicago-based Brookfield Properties, which owns the mall. After the shooting, a second message was played telling people to evacuate or take shelter, Kahn said in a statement.
"We recognise this created confusion and was truly an unfortunate coincidence," Kahn said.
Kahn said the company is reviewing security measures, but declined to disclose details.
Mauricio Caballero heard the gunfire from the B'Hood clothing cart where he works and ran to find a friend before racing out of the mall. He said it was the third time in a month the fire alarm sounded randomly, but Caballero said he thinks the alarm helped people who did not hear the gunfire get to safety quickly
"The universe is taking care of us," said Caballero.
Investigators are still looking for others involved in the dispute and trying to locate more witnesses, Bass said.
The members of the rival gangs crossed paths by chance in the mall and their argument turned physical after it went outside, Bass said.
One of the two victims, a woman in her early 20s, was treated and released hours after the shooting broke out, Bass said.
A man, also in his early 20s, remained hospitalised Monday (local time) in critical condition.
The suspects were identified as Jesus J. Payan-Mendoza and Jorge Crecencio- Gonzalez. No attorney was listed in court records for either man.
Fashion Place is a popular shopping centre in the heart of the Salt Lake City metro area. It was open Monday (local time), with an increased police presence.
Shopper Sean Sasso stopped by the mall to before going to work as a pharmacy technician, saying he had heard about the shooting.
"I'm not going to live my life in fear and not come to the mall because there was a shooting yesterday," Sasso said.
Corey Robison took his three young children to get breakfast and walk around the mall while his wife went to a doctor's appointment nearby.
"I feel like it's unlikely to happen ever again," said Robison, a graphic designer from California who has lived in Utah for three years.
A 2007 shooting at a different Salt Lake City mall killed five people and wounded four others. The 18-year-old gunman was killed in a shootout with police.