PARAMUS, NJ (RNN) – Officials reported that the suspected gunman in a mall shooting incident was found dead in the mall early Tuesday morning of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Shots were fired Monday evening in Westfield Garden State Plaza Mall, forcing employees and shoppers to barricade themselves inside stores.
Witnesses reported hearing anywhere from four to nine gunshots at the mall during the incident, which began around 9:20 p.m. EST, about 10 minutes before the mall's closing time.
The body of the suspect was discovered about 3:20 EST Tuesday morning deep in an area in the mall that was under construction, according to Mayor Rich LaBarbiera.
The discovery was made after an extensive sweep of the vast shopping complex of more than 300 stores and 2.1 million square feet.
LaBarbiera said Tuesday morning the alleged gunman had a history of drug use and abuse.
"We do believe that the main motive of what he did tonight was suicide, whether self-inflicted or, God forbid, suicide by cop, which no one ever wants to see," he said. LaBarbiera said the alleged gunman didn't appear to be in the mall to shoot anyone.
"We were about to close for the night, and we started hearing loud bangs. Everyone started running," mall employee Ally Kozik told CNN. "About 10 seconds later, someone dressed in all black holding a large gun passed our store."
Nicole Packs, another mall employee, heard people running and yelling about a gunman on the loose.
"My first instinct was to run back to my store and tell my staff what I heard," she said. "The best option was to have everybody lock down. We went into the bathroom and just locked everything."
Witnesses reported the shots weren't fired in rapid succession, but that there were gaps of time between shots.
National Review reporter Kathryn Jean Lopez was in the mall when the lockdown went into effect and tweeted a photo from her position inside.
"I can't say enough about the kindness and calmness of people here, despite the situation #paramus and professionalism of law enforcement," she tweeted.
Another witness said the gunman was aiming his firearm at security cameras and shooting them.
The mall, located about 12 miles from Manhattan, is one of the busiest in the area. According to NBC 4 New York, the mall was built in 1957 and was one of the first major malls built in the nation.
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