CINCINNATI (AP) — A gunman opened fire early Thursday in the heart of Cincinnati in an attack that left him and three other people dead, police said.
The shooting sent people scrambling across the city's Fountain Square amid cries of "shooter!"
It happened at a 30-story building, home to the corporate headquarters for regional banker Fifth Third Bancorp and other businesses, including popular ice cream, pastry and sandwich shops. The bank building was locked down for most of the morning, and the usually crowded surrounding streets and sidewalks were closed off.
Police Chief Eliot Isaac said the shooter opened fire at about 9:10 a.m. at the loading dock of the Fifth Third Bank building. Isaac said the gunman then entered the bank's lobby, where he exchanged gunfire with police. It was unclear if the gunman shot himself or was shot by officers.
Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters said the gunman was carrying a large amount of ammunition, and the rapid police response likely prevented many more casualties. He said one investigator said it could have been "a bloodbath beyond imagination."
The gunman wasn't immediately identified, and police didn't comment on a possible motive. Police Lt. Steve Saunders said he wasn't a current or past employee of Fifth Third, and police didn't know immediately why he went to that building.
Police swarmed an apartment in North Bend, Ohio, a village some 15 miles west of Cincinnati. Deters confirmed it was the suspect's residence.
"A very horrific situation," Isaac said at the shooting scene. "We're in the very early stages" of the investigation.
Federal and state agents were on the scene as police searched the building.
Michael Richardson, who works in the bank building, told The Cincinnati Enquirer that he was standing outside the entrance when he heard gunshots in the lobby.
"I looked behind me and saw the guy — he shot and then he shot again. After that, I started running."
Leonard Cain told The Enquirer he was going into the bank when someone alerted him about the shooting. He said a woman, who was wearing headphones, didn't hear the warnings and walked into the bank and was shot.
Jessica Hanson, a contractor with the bank's concierge company, works on one of the lower floors overlooking Fountain Square. She told The Associated Press that after repeatedly hearing shots, she went to the window and saw people running and ducking for cover as officers started shooting into the bank.
A woman who works with her had taken the elevator down to get a drink. When the elevator doors opened, Hanson said her co-worker almost stepped on a man's body. She got back in the elevator and rode up to her floor, where Hanson said she was in complete shock and unable to form complete sentences.
"Then we knew what was going on," Hanson said.
Jaenetta Cook, who manages Servatii Bakery on the building's first floor, said she hurried to lock the door after the first two shots were fired. Then, she heard more noise that "sounded as if they were getting closer and closer." Cook said she and two other employees hid in the bathroom for the duration of the shooting.
"I made it out to see my kids, to see another day," she said in relief.
One of the victims died at the scene. Two more died at University of Cincinnati Medical Center. UC Health spokeswoman Kelly Martin said one victim remained there in critical condition and another was listed as serious. All four taken to the hospital had gunshot wounds, she said.
Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley said the gunman was "actively shooting innocent victims." The Fountain Square often hosts concerts, dancing, food trucks and other events around lunchtime or in the evenings and is neighbored by a hotel, restaurants and retail shops.
"It could have been any one of us," Cranley said.
He praised police who ended the threat and the response of other emergency personnel.
"It could have been much, much worse," Cranley said.
Fifth Third operates some 1,200 banking centers in 10 states. The company in a statement said it's working with law enforcement and offers thoughts and prayers for "everyone caught up in this terrible event."