Crime

In this screengrab from video provided by WKMG/ClickOrlando, Ocala Police Chief Mike Balken speaks during a news conference following a fatal shooting in a common area at Paddock Mall in Ocala, Fla., located about 80 miles northwest of Orlando, Saturday, Dec. 23, 2023. WKMG/ClickOrlando via AP

By Associated Press

OCALA, Fla. (AP) — Authorities in central Florida issued an arrest warrant Sunday for a 39-year-old man accused of fatally shooting another man at a shopping mall two days before Christmas in which police say the victim was “targeted.”

As of Sunday afternoon, the suspect hadn’t been located, and the Ocala Police Department was offering a $5,000 award for any information leading to his arrest. The arrest warrant was for premeditated first-degree murder and attempted premeditated first-degree murder, the police department said on social media.

Ocala Police Chief Mike Balken told reporters Saturday evening that the victim was killed after he was shot multiple times in a common area at Paddock Mall in Ocala, located about 80 miles (127 kilometers) northwest of Orlando.

A woman also was shot in the leg. She was treated at a local hospital and expected to recover, Balken said.

The suspect fled the scene and left behind the firearm, Balken said.

Ocala police posted photos overnight of a person of interest that appear to be taken from a mall security camera. The three images show a male with a red cap and dark clothing. Balken previously said the suspect wore a hooded sweatshirt and a mask partially covering his face.

On Sunday, the police department urged a person who took the suspect’s hat from the crime scene to turn it over to investigators or they would be charged with tampering with evidence.

“That hat may contain valuable DNA evidence, and we need it back,” the Ocala Police Department said on social media. “We urge you to do the right thing and come forward immediately. Time is of the essence.”

Police arrived at the mall around 3:40 p.m. Saturday after a call of multiple shots being fired at the mall.

“Officers immediately made entry into the mall (and) ultimately discovered that this was not what we would consider an active shooter,” Balken told reporters.

The attack was likely a “targeted act of violence” against the man, Balken said.

Several other mall patrons suffered injuries during the shooting, with one person having chest pain and another reporting a broken arm, police said.

Police have asked the public for assistance by submitting mobile phone video of the shooting scene.

The mall’s corporate owner, WPG, said in a statement that they were working with the Ocala Police Department in the investigation of what happened. The mall was closed Sunday, the day before Christmas.

“We are deeply saddened by this tragedy. Our thoughts are with all those involved,” the statement said. “The safety of our guests, retailers and employees is our top priority.”

The mall has dozens of stores, including J.C. Penney and Foot Locker.

Calvin and Diana Amos, who were shopping in the J.C. Penney store, told the Ocala Star-Banner that they evacuated the store quickly once they figured out what was going on. They described themselves as scared and apprehensive.