MADISON, Wis. >> Gunfire erupted during a dispute inside a large Wisconsin mall Saturday, leaving one man wounded in the leg and sending thousands of people scrambling for cover on one of the busiest shopping days before Christmas.
Police said the East Towne Mall in Madison was temporarily locked down after shooting broke out just before 3 p.m. Madison police spokesman Joel DeSpain said officers were looking for a suspect.
“This is not an active shooter. This is not an act of terrorism,” Madison police spokesman Joel DeSpain said.
Witnesses told police that several young men were involved in a dispute in the heart of the crowded mall where two major wings intersect. One pulled out a handgun and fired at least one shot, although DeSpain said it could have been multiple shots. A 19-year-old man involved in the initial dispute was struck in the leg. He was taken to the hospital with a non-life-threatening injury. A worker at a mall kiosk was hit in the pant leg by a bullet ricochet but was not injured, DeSpain said.
“My understanding is it was a chaotic scene,” he said, adding that thousands of people tried to flee the area.
Shopper Evan Flood said he saw a heated argument among about 15 people and a couple of punches were thrown. Within three or four seconds a gun went off, he said.
“Myself and a lot of other people just went into whatever store was nearest, and they did a real good job of putting the gate down and getting us into the back, where we waited until police showed up,” Flood said.
“There were a lot of kids actually around … and they were in tears and their parents were trying to get them to calm down, but they were crying the entire time,” he said.
Police said the mall had been secured by late afternoon and was reopened except for the immediate area where the shooting happened.
Police were questioning the wounded man, numerous witnesses and would look at surveillance video to determine who was involved in the dispute, DeSpain said.
East Towne Mall is an 840,000-square-foot shopping center with 110 specialty retailers, according to its website.
The incident comes at a time of heightened concern about security following a shooting at a holiday banquet on Dec. 2 in San Bernardino, California that left 14 people dead. The couple identified as the shooters were later killed by police. The FBI is investigating the case as an act of terrorism.