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Authorities: Suspect in NJ mall shooting is dead

Garden State Plaza Mall
Kena Betancur | Getty Images
Garden State Plaza Mall

A 20-year-old man suspected of firing multiple shots and causing a lockdown at New Jersey's largest shopping mall has been found dead of a self-inflicted wound, authorities said Tuesday.

Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli said the body of Richard Shoop, 20, of Teaneck was found in a back area of the Garden State Plaza mall in Paramus. He said Shoop killed himself with the same weapon he used at the mall and that a note was found.

There were no other injuries.

Paramus Police Kenneth Ehrenberg said Shoop's body was discovered around 3:20 a.m. Tuesday deep within a lower level of the mall that is not a public area. Shoop did not work at the mall, he said, and police are still seeking a possible motive for the shooting.

(Read more: Police search New Jersey mall for shooter, no injuries reported)

Chaos erupted shortly before the mall's 9:30 p.m. closing time on Monday when authorities said a man dressed in black and wearing what is believed to be a motor cycle helmet fired shots. There were no injuries.

Witnesses said the sound of gunfire sent customers and employees rushing hysterically for the exits and hiding places.

Jessica Stigliano, 21, of Ridgefield, who'd been in the food court, told The Associated Press that she had thought, "Not many people run for their life, but that's what I'm doing right now."

Bergen County spokeswoman Jeanne Baratta told the AP that SWAT teams concentrated their search in the northeast corner of the 2.2 million-square-foot mall, near a Nordstrom store, believing the suspect might still be in the mall.

She said authorities found one bullet casing.

Hundreds of law enforcement officers converged on the mall, which was put on lockdown. New Jersey State Police landed a helicopter in the parking lot and SWAT teams with K-9 units went through the mall and evacuated anyone who was still there.

(Read more: America's gun: The rise of the AR-15)

Nick Woods was working in the Lego store when a woman ran by shouting that there was a shooting.

Woods said his supervisor locked them in a back room, along with a man and a child who ran into the store. When they finally peeked out two hours later, he said they saw police officers standing outside and Woods called 911 to ask that the officers be told they were coming out.

He said the emergency operator told him she couldn't contact individual police officers and that he should walk out with his hands in the air.

"I had to go out of the store shouting at the officers with my hands up, and they turned and pointed their guns at me," Woods said. "It was one of the scariest experiences of my life."

Joel Castaneda, 18, of Englewood, who was working at the Ann Taylor Loft store, also spent time locked in a back room. He said he heard several loud bangs and thought they were from construction at the mall, but then saw people running.

He said people rushed into his store and they locked themselves in a back room -- employees and customers alike -- where they pulled out cellphones to try to get news or reach loved ones.

Carlos Sinde, 36, of Queens, N.Y., was alerted by fire alarms going off while he was watching previews for the 9:20 p.m. showing of the movie "Gravity" at the mall.

He said he walked into the mall where someone was saying "I think there was a shooting," but he didn't take it seriously. Then, security guards ran up,urging customers to leave. He said one security guard was crying.

(Read more: Shooting incident prompts evacuation at LAX, situation developing)

"Once the security guards started telling us what was going on, that's when there was hysteria," he said.

Early Tuesday, families were being escorted by police to a Chili's restaurant on the outskirts of the mall area to be reunited with others who had been in the mall for hours.

A senior law enforcement official told CNBC the response to last night's shooting was "textbook," with SWAT teams and police units from throughout Bergen County responding as soon as word of "shots fired at the mall" went out.

That said, authorities still do not know how the gunman got into the mall with a loaded weapon, or if it was concealed in any way. Officials said it will still take some time to process the scene before merchants can be allowed in, in order to prepare their stores for reopening. The mall is closed today and as of yet, there is no word on whether the mall will open for trading tomorrow.

Althea Brown, 26, of Paterson told NorthJersey.com she was in a clothing store when she saw a man walk by and then heard three shots followed by two more. She said he appeared to be wearing body armor and was wearing a helmet with the visor pulled up.

Najde Waters, who works in customer service at H&M, said when they heard shots his manager and store workers followed an action plan they'd rehearsed for just such a scenario.

"We all prepare, like schools do. We have a plan where we all meet up in the back of the store and if we can exit together out the front we do, but in this case we had to exit out the back," Waters said.

He said they went to their meeting place near a light pole.

The mall, which has more than 270 stores, is located in Bergen County, about 15 miles northwest of Manhattan.

Scott Cohn contributed to this story.

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