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COLUMBIA, Md. -- Three people were killed in a shooting spree at a Maryland mall crowded with Saturday shoppers, Howard County police said.

The victims at The Mall in Columbia included the suspected shooter, police Chief Bill McMahon said.

McMahon said the three bodies were found in an upper level store he declined to identify. He said he was "confident" there had been just one shooter.

McMahon said several calls came in to the 911 dispatcher around 11:15 a.m. that shots were fired at the mall. Responding officers found the bodies, including one near a gun and ammunition.

People were still being released from the mall as the afternoon wore on, area by area. Detectives were trying to confirm the identities of the victims, but no motive had been determined, McMahon said.

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman said it has been a "tremendously trying" few hours for the community.

"We want to send our thoughts and prayers to the family members and the loved ones of the victims," Ulman said.

Witnesses said they heard gunshots, setting off a scramble as shoppers fled the mall or ran to hide.

Ed Main was shopping at the Justice store with his son Noah, 15, his daughter Tori, 12, and his niece Ana Collins, 18, when they heard two loud pops. He said they were hustled by an employee into a storeroom in the back of the store. Main, from nearby Westminster, said the employee "shut the door and barricaded it from the inside."

It was more than an hour before they were able to exit the mall.

Laura McKinzles of Columbia works at a kiosk in the mall. She said she heard between eight and 10 gunshots, followed by people running and screaming. She ran into the backroom of a perfume store and locked the door.

Joan Harding, of Elkridge, was shopping with her husband, David, for a tiara for their granddaughter's 18th birthday. She said she heard something heavy falling, followed by gunshots and people running.

"My husband said, 'Get down!' and the girl that worked in the store said, 'Get in the back,' " Harding said. They hid there until police gave the all-clear.

People were directed out of the mall and into a parking lot, where some boarded a bus and others walked toward their cars. Some people were seen crying.

Columbia, with a population of about 100,000 people, was built in the 1960s as a planned community of 10 "villages." Columbia is about 18 miles from Baltimore and 24 miles from Washington, D.C.

Contributing: Associated Press

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