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Macy : Teen cancer survivor among mall shooting victims; search for gunman continues

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09/25/2016 | 04:04am CEST

Sept. 25--BURLINGTON, Skagit County -- Families of five people killed during a shooting rampage at a Burlington mall Friday night were mourning Saturday, as police continued to search for the gunman and look for clues about his motive.

Sarai Lara was the youngest of the victims, at 16. The Mount Vernon High School sophomore had survived cancer as a young girl, and was a happy, responsible, driven student, her mother said Saturday evening.

Evangelina Lara said she was shopping at the mall with Sarai and her younger sister, but they split up to different stores. Sarai went to Macy's looking for pants, her mother said through a translator. News of the shooting spread through the mall, and Lara tried to get to her daughter but was blocked from Macy's.

The next seven hours were filled with anxiety and dread, she said, until it was confirmed at 2 a.m. Saturday that her daughter was dead. She said nobody in the family recognizes the shooter in photos handed out by police.

Three women also were killed in Macy's Friday night, State Patrol Sgt. Mark Francis said. A man who was flown to Seattle's Harborview Medical Center in critical condition died overnight, Francis said.

[Burlington mourns: 'It's not supposed to be like this']

Another victim is believed by her family to be Shayla Martin, a 52-year-old from Mount Vernon who worked as a make-up artist at Macy's. Martin's sister, Karen Van Horn, declined to talk Saturday evening.

"We're really having a tough time right now," Van Horn said in a brief phone call.

Van Horn, an employee at The Herald in Everett, told that newspaper that family members hadn't heard an official confirmation that she was among the victims, but a witness told them that her sister was among the dead. Van Horn described her younger sister as an avid reader who was both classy and practical.

"She was so sweet," Van Horn told The Herald. "She was just very independent. She wanted to make her own way. She didn't want to rely on anyone else."

About 50 people gathered at Central United Methodist Church in Sedro-Woolley Saturday evening to offer up prayers. At one point in the service, Pastor Cody Natland lit a candle for each of the five victims, then invited congregants to call out prayers to the people they were thinking about.

"To the parents of the (young) victim and the parents of the shooter," one woman said.

"To law enforcement and our first responders," said another.

"To the students at the high school on Monday," a third woman said.

"The small community of Darrington that lost two folks last night," a man said.

Police said the suspect appeared to be a Hispanic male in his late teens to mid-20s with a close-shaved haircut. He used a long gun similar to a hunting rifle, Francis said. He was wearing a black short-sleeved shirt and black shorts. Police released a security-footage photo of him Friday night.

"I don't know what his motivations were," Mount Vernon Police Department Lt. Chris Cammock, commander of the Skagit Multi-Agency Response Team (SMART), said at a Saturday morning news conference. "But I certainly intend to find out." He was last seen walking west toward Interstate 5 about 7 p.m. Friday.

Asked why authorities believe the gunman may be Hispanic, Cammock said the description was based on the surveillance photos and the man's dark hair. He acknowledged "photos aren't exact replicas."

Cammock is leading the investigation of the shootings; Burlington's police department requested help from SMART due to the magnitude of the crime, he said.

Cammock said the suspect walked into the mall apparently unarmed shortly before 7 p.m. and returned about 10 minutes later with a rifle. A rifle was recovered by police at the scene, he said. He did not disclose the caliber.

Taleia Thurman, 23, called her mother from a bathroom inside Kay Jewelers, where Taleia and three co-workers hid amidst Friday night's gunfire.

One of the coworkers had seen the gunman and sprinted from a kiosk into the store to warn the others, Kim Thurman said, recounting her daughter's story Saturday.

"It was nerve wracking. They locked themselves in the bathroom -- they didn't even have time to roll the doors down," Thurman recounted.

After the gunfire ended, Thurman cautioned her daughter to wait for police to arrive.

"It was a security guard that came and got them and ushered them outside. She didn't have her keys, her purse or anything," Thurman said.

Taleia was able to catch a ride to Lynnwood, where her mother met her and drove her home to Seattle.

"She was an emotional wreck" and "just melted" when she saw her mother and got in her car, Thurman said.

On Saturday, Thurman drove her daughter to the mall to retrieve her car, explaining Taleia's manager was allowed inside the mall to gather employees' personal belongings.

"It was very emotional ... When we got up here, the bodies were still in the mall. Imagine those families," she said, her eyes welling with tears. "I'm just thankful I'm not one of the ones" who lost a family member.

Skagit County Coroner Hayley Thompson began removing the victims' bodies from the mall Saturday afternoon.

Burlington mayor Steve Sexton said the "the city of Burlington has probably changed forever, but I don't think our way of life needs to change," while speaking about the Cascade Mall shooting. (Jessica Lee / The Seattle Times)

Family members who suspect their loved ones may be among the dead were sequestered Saturday with mental-health volunteers at His Place Community Church, which is about a block from the south end of Cascade Mall, which will re-open Monday.

The church, acting as a family resource center, was packed Friday night as friends and relatives gathered to learn what scant information was being released, said Bill Overby, a volunteer with Skagit County's Department of Emergency Management.

"These are very abnormal circumstances in a normal community with normal people and their reactions reflect that," Overby said. "There's a lot of uncertainty. People are obviously very concerned but there's not a lot of answers (yet), which is common."

He said it's best at this point to avoid speculation or wild guesses because to do otherwise "revictimizes everyone involved." The police investigation is proceeding deliberately, "but it needs to to get it right," Overby said.

Lacey Shoemaker, the disaster program manager for the Northwest Washington chapter of the Red Cross, said five disaster mental-health volunteers were dispatched to Burlington Friday night and continue to work with families impacted by the mass shooting. Support officers also are on scene to "assist in the emotional care of the community," she said.

Shoemaker said the community of about 8,400 is pulling together, with restaurants, churches and other organizations providing food and lending support any way they can.

"It's hit the community on a very emotional level. It's a very small, tight-knit community. It's just kind of unbelievable something like this would happen here," she said. "I think there's a lot of mixed emotions ... It's weird when it happens in your own back yard. It digs a little deeper."

Assistant Pastor Nick Harris was graceful in declining any praise for opening his church to the community.

"I'm just the guy with the key. It's God's house so it's here for everybody," he said.

At a vigil for the victims Saturday morning at Maiben Park in Burlington, Kelly Couture recalled what she heard as she left the mall's Target store Friday night.

"Just sirens and people were yelling and running out of the building," Couture said. "It was kind of, like, chaotic. The amount of sirens and the amount of police cars was insane."

Joanne Burkholder's experience was more frightening.

"Security came into the room and said we need to evacuate immediately, and so we got into the hallway and there was, like, tons of people out there," she said at the vigil. "People were panicking, screaming down the hallway. We were terrified so we went outside and there was lots of security locking down the place."

A 14-year-old girl named Christina said Saturday she was getting her nails done in a salon on the other side of the mall from the Macy's when the shooting occurred. She and her cousin, along with others in the salon, hid in a back room for about 10 minutes before fleeing the mall to an Applebee's restaurant nearby.

"We just saw a whole bunch of people running out," she said, her voice trembling. "One of the workers said she saw him (the shooter) pass by. We all got freaked out and ran into the little back room they had. Then a cop came and escorted us out."

Christina added, "I go there pretty much every weekend. It's just so strange that at a small mall like this, that would happen."

Cammock asked members of the public to continue to stay away from the shopping mall. But despite the gunman still being at large, he described Burlington as a "safe community to be in right now."

He encouraged members of the public to contact law enforcement if they see him. Anyone with information on the suspect is asked to call 360-428-3211, or email scinv@co.skagit.wa.us.

Map of the Cascade Mall area:

Burlington Mayor Steve Sexton said the city's "thoughts and prayers go out to the families" of the victims.

"There are people waking up this morning and their lives are changed forever," Sexton said. "The city of Burlington is changed forever."

The mayor called the shooting a senseless act, saying "the world came knocking on our doorstep and it came to our little community here."

"Our support goes with them (law enforcement and investigators), to help them ... bring the son of a bitch to justice who did this to our community. Our community comes together in times of tragedy."

What it looks like @ command post @ #CascadeMall FBI, sheriff, multiple agencies "active scene" they pushed me away https://t.co/irx38NF7tZ pic.twitter.com/EkWriyc4Wn

-- Jessica Lee (@jessleeST) September 24, 2016

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has no information to suggest additional attacks are planned in the state, spokeswoman Ayn Dietrich-William said. The FBI is sending a team to help local law enforcement with the investigation.

Washington State Patrol Sgt. Mark Francis gives an update about the victims of a shooting at the Cascade Mall in Burlington on September 23, 2016. (Rick Lund and Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)

Macy's on Saturday morning released this statement on its Facebook page:

"We are devastated by the tragic events that occurred last night at Cascade Mall. Our hearts are with our Burlington store, the families and loved ones of the victims, and the entire community. We are working closely with local law enforcement authorities as the investigation continues to unfold. They will be providing updates as the situation develops."

Cascade Mall had a similar message on its website: "We are deeply saddened by the tragic event that occurred Friday evening. Our prayers and condolences are with the victims and their families."

Information from The Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

Times staff reporter Mike Carter and researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.

Jessica Lee: 206-464-2532 or jlee@seattletimes.com; on Twitter: @jessleeST.Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com; on Twitter: @SJGTimes.Daniel Beekman: 206-464-2164 or dbeekman@seattletimes.com; on Twitter: @dbeekman. Seattle Times staff reporter Daniel Beekman covers Seattle city government and local politics.Mike Baker: 206-464-2729 or mbaker@seattletimes.com; on Twitter: @ByMikeBaker.

___

(c)2016 The Seattle Times

Visit The Seattle Times at www.seattletimes.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

© Tribune Content Agency, source Regional News

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