By JAKE BLEIBERG and REBECCA BOONE (Associated Press)
ALLEN, Texas (AP) — Another American community mourned Sunday for lives lost to a mass shooting — this time at a Dallas-area outlet mall where a gunman stepped out of a sedan and opened fire on shoppers.
Eight people were killed and seven wounded Saturday in suburban Allen before the assailant was killed by a police officer who happened to be nearby, authorities said.
John Mark Caton, senior pastor at Cottonwood Creek Church, about two miles from the mall, offered prayers during his weekly service for victims, first responders and the shoppers and employees who “walked out past things they never should have seen.”
“Some of our people were there. Some perhaps in this room. Some of our students were working in those stores and will be changed forever by this,” Caton said.
Recalling phone conversations with police officers, he said: “There wasn’t an officer that I talked to yesterday that at some point in the call didn’t cry.”
The church planned an evening prayer vigil in the aftermath of the shooting, which was the latest attack to contribute to the unprecedented pace of mass killings this year. Barely a week before, five people were fatally shot in Cleveland, Texas, after a neighbor asked a man to stop firing his weapon while a baby slept, authorities said.
Police did not immediately provide details about the victims at Allen Premium Outlets, a sprawling outdoor shopping center, but witnesses reported seeing children among them. Some said they also saw what appeared to be a police officer and a mall security guard unconscious on the ground.
A 16-year-old pretzel stand employee, Maxwell Gum, described a virtual stampede of shoppers. He and others sheltered in a storage room.
“We started running. Kids were getting trampled,” Gum said. “My co-worker picked up a 4-year-old girl and gave her to her parents.”
Dashcam video circulating online showed the gunman getting out of a car and shooting at people on the sidewalk. More than three dozen shots could be heard as the vehicle that was recording the video drove off.
Allen Fire Chief Jonathan Boyd said seven people, including the shooter, died at the scene. Nine victims were taken to hospitals. Two of them died.
Three of the wounded were in critical condition Saturday evening, and four were stable, Boyd said.
An Allen Police Department officer was in the area on an unrelated call when he heard shots at 3:36 p.m., the department wrote on Facebook.
“The officer engaged the suspect and neutralized the threat. He then called for emergency personnel,” the post said.
Mass killings have happened with staggering frequency in the United States this year, with an average of about one per week, according to a database maintained by The Associated Press and USA Today in partnership with Northeastern University.
In a statement, President Biden said the assailant wore tactical gear and fired an AR-15-style weapon. He urged Congress to enact tighter restrictions on firearms and ammunition.
“Such an attack is too shocking to be so familiar. And yet, American communities have suffered roughly 200 mass shootings already this year, according to leading counts,” said Biden, who ordered flags lowered to half-staff.
Republicans in Congress, he said, “cannot continue to meet this epidemic with a shrug.”
Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has signed laws easing firearms restrictions following past mass shootings, called the mall attack an “unspeakable tragedy.”
Video shared on social media showed people running through a parking lot amid the sound of gunshots.
Fontayne Payton, 35, was at H&M when he heard gunshots through his headphones.
“It was so loud, it sounded like it was right outside,” Payton said.
People in the store scattered before employees ushered the group into the fitting rooms and then a lockable back room, he said. When they were given the all-clear to leave, Payton saw the store had broken windows and a trail of blood to the door. Discarded sandals and bloodied clothes lay nearby.
Once outside, Payton saw bodies.
“I pray it wasn’t kids, but it looked like kids,” he said. The bodies were covered in white towels, slumped over bags on the ground. “It broke me when I walked out to see that.”
Further away, he saw the body of a heavyset man wearing all black. He assumed it was the shooter, Payton said, because unlike the other bodies it had not been covered.
Tarakram Nunna, 25, and Ramakrishna Mullapudi, 26, said they saw what appeared to be three people motionless on the ground, including one who seemed to be a police officer and another who resembled a mall security guard.
Another shopper, Sharkie Mouli, 24, said he hid in a Banana Republic. As he left, he saw someone who looked like a police officer lying unconscious next to another unconscious person outside the store.
“I have seen his gun lying right next to him and a guy who is like passing out right next to him,” Mouli said.
Stan and Mary Ann Greene were browsing in a Columbia sportswear store when the shooting started.
“We had just gotten in, just a couple minutes earlier, and we just heard a lot of loud popping,” Mary Ann Greene told The Associated Press.
Employees rolled down the security gate and brought everyone to the rear of the store until police arrived and escorted them out, the Greenes said.
Eber Romero was at an Under Armour store when a cashier mentioned there was a shooting.
As he left, the mall appeared empty and all the shops had their security gates down, Romero said. That is when he started seeing broken glass and victims of the shooting on the floor of the shopping center.
Allen, a city of 105,000 residents, is about 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of downtown Dallas.
Associated Press writers Jamie Stengle and Adam Kealoha Causey in Dallas and Gene Johnson in Seattle contributed to this report.