Sheriff: Oregon mall gunman was on 'a mission' to kill

Witnesses Kelly Lay and Mira Sytsma recount the terrifying moments when a man opened fired at Portland-area mall, killing two before turning the gun on himself.

By NBC News staff

Witnesses who survived a terrifying shooting at an Oregon mall teeming with holiday shoppers described a scene of chaos and panic, and the sheriff said the carnage could have been much worse if the gunman's weapon hadn't apparently jammed.

"He had a mission set forth to really take the lives of people within that mall," Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Robert said.

The food court near the Macy's at the Clackamas Town Center near Portland, Ore., was buzzing with holiday shoppers Tuesday afternoon when a masked gunman announced "I am the shooter" and  began randomly spraying bullets a 223-caliber semi-automatic rifle, authorities and witnesses said.

Two people were killed and a teenage girl was injured before the gunman, whose identity was not immediately released, fatally shot himself.

"All of a sudden, I just heard a series of gunshots… boom, boom, boom, boom, boom… whatever the shooter was shooting at, they continued to shoot," shopper Bill Hoff told NBC station KGW.

A law enforcement official said the shooter was 22 years old and had to be identified through fingerprints. He had no prior record, the official told NBC News.

Two people shot to death at mall in suburban Portland, Oregon; gunman also dies

Mira Sytsma told NBC's Matt Lauer she was walking toward a store near the food court when she heard the first shots go off.

"After the first couple of shots I had a feeling I knew what was happening," she said.

Kelly Lay was in the food court when he heard "two loud booms," he told Lauer. Glancing to his left, he saw people running in panic, and he duck and hid behind a pillar, where two elderly women – including one in a wheelchair – had already taken shelter.

Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts discusses the gunman who opened fire at a Portland-area mall, saying it "looked to be a random shooting."

"As soon as I heard bullets hitting behind me, the wall, seeing it hit the tiles, basically the food signs above… and seeing the tiles break around me, I kind of got in fear and scared for my life," Lay said.

He saw people running toward the exit and told the women to do the same. After helping the woman in a wheelchair, Lay took off running.

Girl, 15, shot in Oregon mall cheats death twice

Sytsma saw one of the gunman's victims lying on the ground about 50 feet away from where she stood by a kiosk. Turning her head away from the victim, she caught a glimpse of the shooter.

"I couldn't really see his eyes," she said. "I felt like I looked right at him and it was pretty scary to see him face to face like that."

Sytsma and three other women ran for cover inside a store.

Several witnesses reported hearing the suspect announce, "I am the shooter," before he began firing, triggering panic among an estimated 10,000 shoppers at the mall.

People in line to get their photos taken with Santa immediately dove for cover, KGW reported, while others hid in break rooms and bathrooms.

The mall Santa, Brance Wilson, said he was about to invite the next child onto his lap when the shots rang out upstairs. He said he  instead dove for the floor and kept his head down.

"I heard two shots and got out of the chair. I thought a red suit was a pretty good target," said the 68-year-old Wilson, The Associated Press reported.

Macy's employee Mariah Saldana said the gunman was wearing a white mask and wielded a weapon that police said had a high-capacity magazine. He did not appear to be targeting anyone in particular, Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts told NBC's Savannah Guthrie.

"It really looked as though it was a random shooting, really anybody that was in his line of sight, basically," Sheriff Roberts said. He added that the man has been identified but his name will not be released until later.

The gunman fired up to 60 shots, The Oregonian reported.

The sheriff said the weapon likely jammed at some point, sparing more shoppers from the bullets.

The injured teen, Kristina Shevchenko, 15, was in serious condition at Oregon Health & Science University Hospital on Wednesday after undergoing surgery.

Roberts said their thoughts and prayers went out to the victims and their families.

"For all of us, the mall is supposed to be a place we can all take our families, feel comfortable, this is the holidays … these things are never supposed to happen. We have a young lady at the hospital fighting for her life right now," he said.

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