PARAMUS, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — It was a terrifying night for hundreds of customers and workers who watched as an armed gunman began shooting randomly inside the Garden State Plaza mall in Paramus.
Witnesses said the sound of gunfire around 9:30 p.m. Monday sent customers and employees rushing for the exits and hiding places.
“We were scared we didn’t know what was going on,” mall employee Amanda Sawruk told CBS 2’s Kathryn Brown.
She was wrapping up work at a cupcake kiosk when she heard a gunman was on the loose inside the mall.
“We just literally ran outside of our kiosk and we ran into Macy’s and then we originally hid in this back room,” Sawruk said. “We were scared, we didn’t know what was going on. We were trying to get live feeds of tweets and all my friends and family were texting me messages of support and they were keeping me updated,” Sawruk
Police spent hours clearing the mall, one store at a time.
“One by one we had our hands on our heads because they needed everyone to come out single file line. It was pretty scary,” said Sawruk.
Nick Woods was working in the Lego store when a woman ran by shouting that there was a shooting. Woods said his supervisor locked them in a back room, along with a woman, a man and a child.
When they finally peeked out two hours later, he said they saw police officers standing outside and he called 911 to ask that the officers be told they were coming out.
He said the emergency operator told him she couldn’t contact individual police officers and that he should walk out with his hands in the air.
“I had to go out of the store shouting at the officers with my hands up, and they turned and pointed their guns at me,” Woods said. “It was one of the scariest experiences of my life.”
Jessica Stigliano, 21, of Richfield, said she was sitting in the mall’s food court when she saw people running and yelling “shots were fired.”
Stigliano said she also began running. She said at the time she was thinking, “Not many people run for their life, but that’s what I’m doing right now.”
Several sales associates said they looked the gunman in the eyes as he passed the J. Crew and Talbots stores.
“I saw him walk past our door and he paused for a second and just looked inside the store, and he fired two more,” one woman said. “He was all dressed in black from head to two with a helmet, I would say with a motorcycle helmet. I just froze. I didn’t want to run, because he might maybe come after me. I just stood there.”
Najde Waters, who works in customer service at H&M, said when they heard shots his manager and store workers followed an action plan they’d rehearsed for just such a scenario.
“We all prepare, like schools do. We have a plan where we all meet up in the back of the store and if we can exit together out the front we do, but in this case we had to exit out the back,” Waters said.
By early Tuesday morning, families were being escorted by police to the outskirts of the mall to be reunited with others who had been in the mall for hours.
The first person Sawruk saw after her ordeal was her father, a retired police officer. He had been waiting on the perimeter, desperate for news about his daughter.
“I said ‘hey it’s hitting home.’ Because we didn’t know what the situation was,” Gary Sawruk told Brown. “As soon as she saw me once they let her out, then she burst into tears.”
“I just started crying and he’s like ‘don’t cry it’ll be OK,'” Amanda Sawruk said. “Something I’ll probably remember for the rest of my life but it changes your perspective on life and I’m just happy the sun’s shining today.”
Fernando Perez’s daughter works at the mall and was trapped inside.
“She called me and told me she heard shots and everyone was panicking,” he said, “So I told her just stay put, not make a sound until cops arrive.”
After an intense manhunt for the gunman, authorities said the body of the shooter, identified as 20-year-old Richard Shoop, was found early Tuesday morning in an area under construction at the mall.
No one was injured in the incident and Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli said it appears Shoop did not intend to shoot anyone inside the mall.
“The reason I say that is because he did have opportunity to shoot people and did not,” he said. “There were a lot of people around him. There were eyewitnesses a few feet from him.”
Molinelli said authorities believe the main motive for the shooting was suicide.
Garden State Plaza was closed Tuesday but will reopen on Wednesday, officials said.
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