MACOMB, Ill. — A man opened fire with a semiautomatic weapon inside an Illinois farm supply store Wednesday, sending terrified customers bolting for the exits while others were kept hostage as police surrounded the building, witnesses and authorities said.
There were no immediate reports of injuries at the Farm King store in the western Illinois city of Macomb, State Police Lt. Harry Douglas said. But the gunman and possibly hostages remained inside late Wednesday afternoon as a SWAT team surrounded the building, authorities said.
Richard Moulton of Macomb was shopping for a battery charger with his father when he heard four or five shots before a wide-eyed employee came around the counter to say there was a man with a loaded gun.
"We started looking for a way to get out really fast," said Moulton, who ran out a rear door with his father and hid behind a snow bank in the parking lot before taking refuge in a nearby hotel.
A Farm King employee called 911 just before 1 p.m. to report a man with a rifle inside the store. When police arrived someone shot at them from inside, said Macomb Police Chief Curt Barker. Police blocked off streets and warned people to stay inside.
Police helped two women, two men and a small child escape from an office inside the store at about 3:30 p.m., Barker told reporters. Two other people had left the building before them.
Shortly before the five people were released, Barker said an unknown number of customers and employees were believed to be inside the store. Police spokesmen weren't immediately available to comment after their release.
"From my windows, I can see half a dozen state trooper cars and Macomb police, and guys squatting with guns behind it," said John Gentry, the owner of Gentry Motor, which is about 100 yards away from the farm supply store. He added he wasn't concerned for his own safety and "police appear to have it under control."
Moulton, the customer, said he and his father had heard men arguing and then yelling in another aisle before the shots rang out.
"I heard him say to a guy, 'Get away from me if you don't want to get shot,'" Moulton said. "I couldn't make out what they were arguing about, but I said to my dad, 'Somebody sounds really mad back there.'"
Macomb Mayor Mick Wisslead said he and police have the suspect's name, but neither would release it.
McDonough District Hospital dispatched ambulances to the scene as a precaution, said spokesman John Maguire. A large truck with "Homeland Security" on its side also was at the scene. Barker said police sent in a robotic device to scan the area but did not say what it showed, according to a (Peoria) Journal Star reporter.
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Nearby Western Illinois University alerted its faculty and staff to avoid the street where the store is located. The campus remained open.