Police continue to search for the suspects involved in a shooting outside West Edmonton Mall Monday that triggered an hours-long lockdown and left three people with gunshot wounds.
Officers responded to reports of a shooting around 7:40 p.m. as shoppers and mall employees were told to take refuge in the backs of stores and restaurants. The mall remained locked down for hours while members of a police tactical unit searched the building.
Three male victims were taken from the scene with serious but non-life-threatening injuries.
At a news conference Tuesday, acting EPS chief Darren Derko said police believe the people involved were known to each other.
"We believe this was a targeted incident between two groups and the events leading up to the shooting are evidence of that," Derko said.
"Who those groups are and their motivations behind the shooting is still not clear. However, we do not believe there is any risk to the community at this time."
Police investigate the scene of a multiple shooting at West Edmonton Mall in Edmonton, Alta., on Monday. Police say three people were seriously injured in a shooting in a parking lot. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press )
The shooting happened in the parking lot on the west side of the sprawling shopping centre.
Derko said four people parked a sedan outside the mall and went in. When they were walking back to their vehicle about 40 minutes later, a white SUV that had been waiting in the parking lot pulled up to them.
An "exchange of gunfire" broke out, Derko said.
Two people collapsed on the pavement, he said. Two others fled into the mall. One went into the mall's shooting range.
The second person who fled into the mall has not been located, Derko said. Police do not believe he sustained any injuries.
The occupants of the white SUV have not been located or identified.
Derko said investigators believe they have located the white SUV but further investigation, including forensic examination, is needed to confirm if it was the vehicle involved.
Tactical officers recovered a handgun from inside the mall. Investigators believe it belongs to one of the people involved in the shooting, he said.
"We are incredibly lucky that nobody lost their lives last night, that no innocent people were injured and that police were able to respond and now gather evidence."
Derko thanked first responders, witnesses and mall security for their co-operation.
He said the motive for the shooting remains unclear. It is also not known if the shooting is linked to other violent crimes in the city.
Investigators are just starting to gather statements from the people in hospital.
"It's way too early to say that this is an ongoing feud or violence that's going to continue," he said. "It's always concerning when something to this level happens, when they're targeted, because the fear is that the retribution is going to happen.
"That's something that we're working on and hopefully we can make some arrests before that happens."
Misinformation circulating online about the incident is a reminder that the public should be mindful of where they obtain their news, Derko said. He said incorrect information can complicate an investigation or cause confusion for responding officers.
Shoppers and mall employees spent hours locked down in stores and restaurants as tactical officers responded to the scene.
Shoppers hid in storeroom
In a video from inside the mall obtained by CBC News, alarms can be heard in the shopping centre, followed by a message saying the mall is in lockdown, and people should "seek shelter immediately or return to your vehicle."
Sean Fowler was shopping for clothes in a Foot Locker store just before 8 p.m. MT, when a woman told people to stay inside the store. A few minutes later, a security guard entered and told a store employee to lock the door.
Fowler told CBC News he was ushered into a room at the back of the store, along with other shoppers and staff, and remained there for about an hour and a half. During that time, he said, the lights dimmed and it was hard to access the internet on his phone.
"There was no panic or crying," he said. People remained calm until the lights came back on and they got the all clear to leave just after 9.30 p.m., he said.
Fowler went shopping for clothes at the mall because he fled Yellowknife last Friday, when residents were ordered to leave because of large wildfire moving closer to the city, and only brought a few items of clothing with him in his car.
"I finally had some time and I was going to buy some sneakers and pants," Fowler said.
The lockdown was lifted around 10 p.m.
Shooting targeted, police say
EPS said the shooting happened in Phase 3 of the mall, which is on the west side of the shopping centre.
Police said Phase 3 of the mall would not be accessible during the police investigation. The area is in the western half of the shopping centre and is home to a water park and the Marine Life aquarium, as well as large tenants Simons and London Drugs.
Officers at the scene of Monday's shooting at West Edmonton Mall. Police say three people were seriously injured. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)
The mall, one of the largest in North America and a major tourist attraction, says on its website it that conducts lockdown drills four times a year to prepare for emergencies.
It tightened security in 2015 after it was named a potential target in a video attributed to al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group al-Shabab.
The mall has more than 800 stores, 100 restaurants, an amusement park, a shooting range, a skating rink and a pirate ship. It sees about 30 million visitors a year.
A aerial shot of West Edmonton Mall and outdoor parking lots. (Rick Bremness/CBC)