COUPEVILLE, Wash. -- Island County Sheriff Mark Brown was shopping with his wife inside Macy's at the Cascade Mall when a gunman entered the store and opened fire.
Brown said he didn't "go public" with his story initially because he didn't want to take the focus away from the victims or the investigation.
"I'm somewhat embarrassed I've become the focus of the story," said Brown. "It's not about me. It's about the true victims of this tragedy and the team who is trying to get to the bottom of that.
Brown and his wife were out the evening of September 23 celebrating her birthday. They had dinner together and were shopping at Macy's for a gift for her before planning on seeing a movie.
That is why he wasn't carrying a gun.
The sheriff said he was sitting in a chair while his wife was trying on clothes in a fitting room when he heard rapid gunfire.
"I was not in a position to see it, only to hear shooting," he said. "There were no cries out from victims, no screaming other than a rapid succession of shots, behind a barrier. I couldn't see it. I knew it was fairly close."
"If I had to guess, it was about six shots in rapid succession," he said. At first, he thought it sounded like the popping of bubble wrap.
He said a woman who worked at the store ran past him, telling him that there had been a shooting inside the store. His first inclination was to hide in place, but it was closer to get to the exit than to get to a place to hide.
Since he was unarmed, he gathered his wife and evacuated the store with other customers. Outside the mall, he called 911, and he helped gather witnesses until officers arrived.
Brown identified himself to officers, and later he and his wife helped direct traffic away from the mall. Later he filled out a report of his involvement to police.
Five people died inside the store. Twenty-year-old Arcan Cetin has been charged with their murders.
Photos: Cascade Mall Shooting