The Mall of America was on lockdown for about two hours Thursday after several gunshots were fired inside the Bloomington shopping destination.
Bloomington Police Chief Booker Hodges said the shooting was an "isolated incident" involving a dispute between two groups of people. He said police believe only one individual fired the shots and that there were no indications anyone was injured.
Hours afterward, police were still looking for the shooter, who fled on foot. Hodges said officers believed for a time that he was holed up in a hotel near the mall, but that didn't turn out to be correct.
The gunshots rang out just after 4 p.m. outside a Nike store in the northwest section of the three-level mall, frightening nearby shoppers and creating a chaotic scene captured on cellphone videos that quickly spread on social media. Mall security instituted a lockdown, and large groups of shoppers crowded into backrooms of stores.
"We cannot continue to have this disregard for human life," Hodges said at a news conference Thursday night at the mall. To the shooter, he said: "Please turn yourself in."
Kate Rutledge, who had driven from Des Moines, Iowa, on Thursday morning to shop at the mall with her husband and four children, said she heard three or four shots.
She, her husband and two sons "ran like hell," Rutledge said as they waited outside the Nordstrom department store. The lockdown had just lifted, and they were waiting for their two daughters, who had been elsewhere in the mall and were locked down inside another store.
Rutledge said she kept in touch with her daughters by text throughout the lockdown and said they were OK.
Hodges said investigators believe it all started with a dispute between two groups of people inside the Nike store. One of the groups left, he said, but then one of its members returned and fired several shots into the store.
"They decided to fire multiple rounds into a store with people in it," Hodges said.
A short video posted for a time on Twitter showed a man walking toward the Nike store, then shouts and the sound of three apparent gunshots can be heard. According to emergency dispatch audio, witnesses said the incident involved juvenile males. (The video was later removed.)
After the lockdown was lifted, the mall closed for the evening. Spokesman Dan Jasper said it would reopen to customers Friday with an increased security presence. He said mall officials would work with customers needing to locate items they left inside while fleeing.
Hodges said he still considers the mall safe enough to bring his own children there.
Danny Reinan, 22, a Minneapolis student, was at the mall with friends when the lockdown was announced about 4:20 p.m.
"We were at the Barnes and Noble, and suddenly there was an announcement over the loudspeaker that the mall is on lockdown and it's not a drill," Reinan said. "The staff rushed us into the back room, where we are waiting right now. Everybody's trying to stay calm but you can really feel the tension and anxiety in the air."
Reinan said about 75 people were in the small room. They did not hear any gunshots fired but saw people running away.
Nate Nelson of Bloomington said he rushed to the mall after hearing from his 18-year-old daughter that she had been locked down inside. He said she quickly indicated she was safe and kept him updated with constant texts.
"Thank goodness for smartphones," Nelson said.
As the lockdown was being lifted, parents, relatives and friends waited outside the mall as people who had been stuck inside began streaming out.
The mall marks the 30th anniversary of its opening Aug. 11. It was placed on lockdown on New Year's Eve last year when two people were shot during a fight.
In a statement Thursday night, Gov. Tim Walz decried the violence at the popular destination. "These brazen incidents will not be tolerated," he said.
Rutledge, whose family planned to stay in a hotel overnight and shop again at the mall Friday, said her 14-year-old son — who also heard the gunshots — had already announced he wanted to return to the mall to buy an Anthony Edwards' Timberwolves jersey.
"I think we're going to have to sleep on it," Rutledge said. "I want to go home. But we'll talk about it."