A fistfight at Springfield Mall ended with gunfire in the mall's parking lot Saturday, leaving at least five cars riddled with bullets and sending panicked staff and shoppers fleeing out the shopping gallery's doors.
Police said there had been no reported injuries from the shots that were traded in a remote section of the mall's parking lot, where two groups of combatants converged after exchanging blows on the mall's second floor near its Shoe Department shop.
"We were lucky it came into the lot," Springfield Township Police Lt. Joe Sadoff told reporters outside the mall following the incident, as teams of officers surveyed sections of the property segmented off with caution tape amid the flicker of patrol car lights.
Police said the incident is believed to have started with an argument between two small groups of people, who may have been on separate levels of the two-story mall when the first words were exchanged.
The fight then spilled into a section of the mall's parking lot by Baltimore Pike, where the shots were fired and at least five cars were struck.
Police responding to the scene after receiving reports of an active shooter around 1 p.m. found vehicles with bullet holes and shattered windows, and scattered shell casings.
The combatants, who were gone when police arrived, are thought to have fled in two vehicles, one for each group, Sadoff said. One of the vehicles may have been a white or light-colored van, he said.
Police believe there was at least one gunman in each group, but do not know what types of guns were used, Sadoff said.
"We are hoping to get some decent video from the mall," Sadoff said.
Heather Crowell, a spokesperson for the mall's manager, Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust, said in a statement that the mall would remain closed until Sunday.
"The safety and security of our customers and employees is our first priority," she said. "We are grateful there were no injuries and look forward to greeting our shoppers tomorrow."
Philadelphia-based PREIT owns the property in a venture with Simon Property Group of Minneapolis.
The gunfire erupted little more than a week before the 33rd anniversary of another incident at the Delaware County mall, in which a 25-year-old woman opened fire in the parking lot, then continued shooting inside, killing two men and a 2-year-old, and wounding several others. That shooter, Sylvia Seegrist, had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia 10 years earlier.
Anthony DiMario, 24, of Clifton Heights, said he had just walked into the mall's Finish Line store Saturday when employees began herding customers out of the shop.
"They said there was an active shooter and said we had to leave and that they were shutting down the mall," DiMario said.
DiMario said he started running toward the entrance of the mall, encountering a police officer with "full-on body armor and an assault rifle" in the building on his way.
By around 1:25 p.m., he was taking refuge in the nearby Disney Store with several store employees and customers.
"I'm very, very thankful to the employees of the Disney Store," DiMario said. "They were handing out toys and snacks to the kids and just being really helpful."
Just before 2 p.m., he said police instructed those in the store to evacuate the building in a single-file line with their hands up, he said.
Wayne Harmon, of Chester, was working as a DJ at Macy's for a customer appreciation day when he saw police officers in the store.
"A cop told me to shut it down and get out," Harmon said later, standing in the parking lot waiting to retrieve his equipment.
Daniel Piotti, 17, of Springfield, was riding his bicycle home from his job as a landscaper when he heard gunfire and saw police vehicles racing toward the mall.
He headed in the direction of the commotion just in time to see frightened shoppers and workers flowing from the mall's doors.
In a cell phone video taken by Piotti, people can be seen running from the building, some holding shopping bags, others carrying children.
The footage was interrupted when a fleeing shopper ran into Piotti, knocking him from his bike.
"It was chaotic," he said. "You see a lot of things, but this is out of the ordinary: the setting, the time. It's a mall parking lot. It's not good."