A gunman opened fire with a machine gun at a crowded shopping centre near Amsterdam yesterday, leaving at least seven people dead and 15 others injured -- with children among the victims.
The attacker was among the dead after fatally shooting himself at the Ridderhof mall in Alphen aan den Rijn, Mayor Bas Eenhoorn said. The suburb is less than 15 miles south-west of Amsterdam. Mr Eenhoorn said children were among the victims but he could not confirm whether they were among the injured or dead, or both.
"It's too terrible for words, a shock for us all," he said.
The gunman was identified as Tristan van der Vlis, 24, and it is "all but certain" he acted alone, district attorney Kitty Nooy said. Afterwards, a note was found in the attacker's black Mercedes containing threats that he had planted explosives at three other malls in the city, said Nooy. The malls were evacuated, but no explosives were found.
Witness Martine Spruit, a 41-year-old receptionist, said she was shopping in a pharmacy when she heard bangs and people in the shop hid behind shelves. When they realised a shooting was taking place, customers shouted for employees to lock the doors.
"Then we heard the shots getting further away, so he was walking back and forth," she said.
"Then we thought we'd have a look and there were two people lying dead near the entrance... then he came back shooting, so we locked the door again."
Queen Beatrix and Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte issued statements expressing their shock and sympathising with the victims and their families.
A witness identified as Maart Verbeek told state broadcaster NOS the attacker had a machine gun and appeared to be shooting at random.
"There was a panic in the mall, a lot of people running," said Mr Verbeek, a pet shop owner. "I see the attacker coming, walking, and I go inside the store ... and I see him going by with a big machine gun."
Hours after the shooting, residents continued to gather at the shopping centre to find out news.
"You hear about this sort of thing happening at American schools and you think that's a long way away," said Rob Kuipers, 50, a project manager. "Now it's happened here in the Netherlands."
Dutch television broadcasters showed a bomb squad searching a car parked outside the Ridderhof mall that is believed to have belonged to the gunman.
Ms Nooy said there was "no evidence" to support rumours the gunman was a former soldier and confirmed his house had been searched. She would not comment on reports that he left a note.
Witnesses said he had long blond hair, appeared to be aged about 25 and wore a leather jacket with camouflage trousers.