Authorities closed the sprawling mall in one of the most populous Washington suburbs, located just off the Beltway and Chain Bridge Road. It is scheduled to reopen Sunday.
Heavily armed officers went store to store to reach people who sheltered in place, and to ensure those involved in the fracas were “no longer present.” No arrests were made, and police said detectives are reviewing video from hundreds of different angles and talking with many witnesses.
“That shots were ringing out inside a place that is as safe as Tysons Corner, it makes all of our hearts drop to the pit of our stomachs,” Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis said at a news conference. “It is something that shocks us all.”
Deputy Executive Police Chief Brian Reilly said it appears a fight broke out between a group of people on a second-level walkway around 2:45 p.m., and one man took out a firearm and fired it. Police previously said the shooting occurred near the Macy’s store.
Reilly declined to say how many shots were fired but confirmed it was multiple rounds. He said several shell casings were found. Fairfax County police officers are always assigned to the mall, and rushed to the spot of the fight as more officers poured in from the area. Reilly said the fight involved two groups of at least three people each.
In an effort to calm fears of mall patrons and others, county police said on Twitter soon after the incident that there were no reports of an active shooter. But recent, deadly attacks at a grocery store in Buffalo and at an elementary school in Uvalde, Tex., have people on edge.
Fellissimo Gannon, 22, lives in Warrenton, Va., and was in Nordstrom’s shopping for clothes with his mother and brother when he said “everyone started running.” He said they heard what might have been gunshots but they weren’t sure.
He said some people ran into an adjacent parking garage while he and his family bolted into a changing room to hide. About a dozen other people had done the same. They found an emergency exit that led to a stairwell and a door.
There, Gannon said they paused, unsure if it was safer inside or out. Just then they heard bangs. Now he believes they were likely not gunshots, but at the time it forced a decision: run out the door.
Outside, they found “tons of people leaving,” he said, and they crossed a street and “made our way further and further from the mall.” He later tweeted a video of their escape.
A week earlier, Gannon had been at the March for Our Lives rally in the District when a man yelled something that others believed to be a gun threat, leading to a small stampede before order was restored. No firearm was found.
“It was kind of crazy, seeing that wave of people again,” said Gannon, who is studying political science at Virginia Tech, where a gunman killed 32 people in 2007. “I’m thinking, ‘Wow, it’s happening again.’”
Matt McNair, 43, was in a changing room at The Gap when employees hurried him and others into the store’s back office, where they remained for about 90 minutes.
“In the past, I would’ve thought that it was a false alarm,” McNair said. “Now, after everything that’s happened, I immediately thought it was an active shooter and went into preservation mode.”
Gloria Johnson, 73, was shopping at Macy’s when she heard people screaming and rushing toward a door. She and others went to a dressing room and she called her son with the frightening news.
The group stayed hidden for nearly a half-hour, refraining from talking and using hand signals to update each other on news coming in on their phones. She kept in touch with her son over text until a security guard came in and directed them to a parking lot.
“It was chaos everywhere,” Johnson said, noting the police and helicopters. By then, her son and his brother had reached the mall and they met up. On the ride home, they reflected on the moment.
“You never know now when you go out the door how it’s going to end up,” Johnson said. “There’s so much gun violence. I wasn’t thinking about anything other than going out and enjoying this nice day.”
Justin Jouvenal contributed to this report.