At least three people have been killed in a shooting at a popular shopping mall in a suburb of the US capital, authorities have said.

Howard County Police said on Saturday that they believed the mall in Columbia, Maryland, was secure and they were contacting shoppers to help them leave the complex.

We are very confident that it was a single shooter and there are no other shooters in the mall

Bill McMahon, Howard County Police Chief,

Police said they did not immediately know the identities of the dead and did not know the motive of the shooter. The shooting happened at a skate shop called Zumiez on the mall's upper level.

"We had officers quickly get into the area and we were able to identify three victims at an upper level store in the Columbia Mall, one of those victims appears to be the shooter," Howard County Police Chief Bill McMahon told reporters.

"We are very confident that it was a single shooter and there are no other shooters in the mall," he said.

Five people were injured during the shooting, but only one suffered a gunshot wound, according to a spokeswoman at Howard County General Hospital, where the victims were taken for treatment.

All the victims were in good condition, spokeswoman Susan Case said.

Police said one of the victims had a gunshot wound to the foot. The suspected shooter was found near a shotgun and ammunition, it said.

911 call 

At the time of the shooting the mall, located in the centre of the city, was crowded with weekend shoppers, many of whom sheltered in place after hearing the shots or seeing people fleeing.

"So right now we still have many, many people still in the mall who have secured themselves inside stores," McMahon said, adding that officers were helping people leave the building.

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.

An emergency 911 call was received at about 11:15am Eastern Standard Time (1615 GMT) reporting that shots had been fired at the Mall of Columbia, a sprawling shopping centre with about 200 stores about 48km north of Washington, DC.

Tonya Broughton of Silver Spring, Maryland, said she and a friend were getting facials when they noticed other shoppers running.

"It was panic. We just headed for the nearest store, Victoria's Secret," she said, adding that the store's employees herded everyone to the rear of the store.

The mall is a popular weekend destination for families and young children for its indoor carousel and play area.

The attack in Columbia follows a shooting at a New Jersey mall in November in which a gunman fired at least six shots without hitting anyone, sparking a mass evacuation of the complex, then killing himself.

Source: Agencies