"We're being held hostage," an employee who answered the phone at the Sam Goody store in Tacoma Mall said.
He identified himself Joe Hudson and said little else, but he could be heard telling others that he was talking to The Associated Press. Then he hung up.
A shopper described seeing a man running through the mall with a gun.
"An individual had just come running through a cross section and I heard some fire so I just told everybody to drop," Dick Waldo told KING-TV. "And then the individual started running toward the other end of the mall."
Authorities got a call about 12:15 p.m. that shots had been fired inside the mall, Tacoma Fire Department Deputy Chief John Lendosky told CNN. State Patrol and police units from nearby agencies were clustered around an entrance at the south end of Tacoma Mall.
Betz Dejarnatt, who works at a J.C. Penney store inside, said she heard three shots around lunch hour.
"I thought, that sounds like a gun," Dejarnatt told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. She said some workers were herded into dressing rooms and offices, then police took them outside to a parking lot.
Six people were taken to hospitals, most with minor injuries, Lendosky said. He couldn't confirm whether any of them had been shot. One person was in critical condition at Tacoma General Hospital, spokesman Todd Kelley said.