OMAHA, Nebraska: A gunman opened fire inside a Nebraska mall on Wednesday, killing at least eight people before turning the gun on himself as panicked employees and Christmas shoppers ran for cover, police said.
At least five other people were injured and taken to area hospitals after the shooting inside the Westroads Mall in Omaha, Sergeant Teresa Negron told a news conference.
"We have confirmed nine people that ... died from their injuries," Negron said. "We have two people that are still in critical condition and three that have gunshot wounds."
She said police believe the man acted alone and used a rifle. "We secured and cleared most of the mall," Negron said.
Local television station KETV, citing a sheriff's department, identified the shooter as a 19-year-old man named Robert Hawkins.
The Sarpy County Sheriff's Department, located just south of Omaha in Papillion, told KETV that Hawkins' mother walked into its office shortly after the shooting with a note that "could be interpreted as suicidal".
The sheriff's office could not be immediately reached for comment.
Employees and shoppers fled the mall or locked themselves inside stores after hearing dozens of shots from the upscale Von Maur department store.
"People were freaking," an employee at Whitehall jewellers, who refused to give her name, told AFP by telephone.
The shooting took place as President George W. Bush headed back to Washington after delivering a Republican fund-raising speech in Omaha.
Bush expressed sadness after learning about the latest in a series of shootings in the United States.
"His thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families this evening," the White House said in a statement.
"Having just visited with so many members of the community in Omaha today, the president is confident that they will pull together to comfort one another as they deal with this terrible tragedy," it said.
The Nebraska incident was just the latest in a series of shootings in the United States, where guns are prevalent on the streets.
Late last month two people were found dead in an apparent murder-suicide at a Texas mall.
The woman was working at a store called Body Luxuries when she got a phone call from her angry boyfriend who threatened to harm her, local television station KHOU said.
The woman called mall security for help, but the boyfriend arrived before they did and he took her hostage, pulling down the store's front gate and barricading them inside.
There have also been a series of school shootings this year, with the worse being the Virginia Tech massacre in April in which 32 people were killed when a student of South Korean origin went on a campus rampage.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation reported in September that more than 1.4 million murders, rapes, robberies and assaults were committed around the United States last year, or a violent crime every 22 seconds.
The number of victims of violent crime in the United States last year was the equivalent of the entire population of European Union member Estonia or the African state of Gabon falling victim to murder, rape, robbery or assault.
The rate of violent crime was up by 1.9 percent compared with 2005, with murders climbing by 1.8 percent to nearly 15,000 cases last year.