CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — A shooting at a North Carolina mall sent shoppers fleeing into stores, some locking themselves inside, on Christmas Eve, but police say the incident was sparked by a long-running feud and was not a random act of violence.
The incident ended when an off-duty officer fatally shot a teenager who pointed a gun in his direction at Northlake Mall in Charlotte on Thursday afternoon, police said. Officials said no one else was shot, and there were no other reports of injuries.
People who knew each other and had past disputes began fighting at the mall, though there was no indication it was gang-related, Chief Kerr Putney of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department said.
During the fight, a weapon was brandished and shots were fired around 2 p.m., Putney said. Witnesses described a chaotic scene. Police could be seen blocking all mall entrances.
Putney said at a Christmas Eve news conference that police did not know if the teenager fired any shots at the officer.
Jake Wallace, 24, of Boone, North Carolina, was in Dick's Sporting Goods when shots rang out nearby — about 30 feet outside the store, near Journey's shoe store on the lower level, according to police.
"I thought someone dropped something. It was extremely loud. Didn't think anything of it," Wallace said. "You don't think gunshots. But then I heard a rapid fire. Once hearing that, there was no mistaking it. It sounded like someone was unloading a clip."
Chaos erupted as shoppers dove for cover or tried to get out the door, Wallace said.
Don Willis, who works as a valet at the mall, said he heard gunshots, then saw a wave of people exiting the mall.
"It was wild. I heard the first shot and I thought, 'Wait. What was that?' And kind of like started turning around and walking and saw this huge line of people — wave of people coming — and I thought a bomb was about to go off, and I just took off," he said.
Putney said Officer Thomas Ferguson, a 19-year veteran of the force, was working off-duty at the mall when he heard the shots and confronted the man who pointed a gun in his direction.
The officer then "fired his service weapon," Putney said. The suspect was given emergency aid, but medics pronounced him dead shortly afterward, officials said. Police identified him as Daquan Antonio Westbrook, 18.
Arrest records show that Westbrook was sentenced to 24 months parole in October of 2013 after pleading guilty to possession of stolen goods. He was charged in July 2014 with assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, injury to personal property and discharging a weapon on occupied property stemming. The disposition of those charges was not immediately known.
The officer was placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation, Putney said. Multiple weapons were found at the scene.
No officers were injured. Putney said police were trying to determine whether anyone else was shot.
"That is part of the investigation," he said. "The good thing about this case is that there are a lot of witnesses."