"I had to go out of the store shouting at the officers with my hands up, and they turned and pointed their guns at me," Woods said. "It was one of the scariest experiences of my life."
Joel Castaneda, 18, of Englewood, who was working at the Ann Taylor Loft store, also spent time locked in a back room. He said he heard several loud bangs and thought they were from construction at the mall, but then saw people running.
He said people rushed into his store and they locked themselves in a back room - employees and customers alike - where they pulled out cellphones to try to get news or reach loved ones.
Carlos Sinde, 36, of Queens, N.Y., was alerted by fire alarms going off while he was watching previews for the 9:20 p.m. showing of the movie "Gravity" at the mall.
He said he walked into the mall where someone was saying "I think there was a shooting," but he didn't take it seriously. Then, security guards ran up, urging customers to leave. He said one security guard was crying.
"Once the security guards started telling us what was going on, that's when there was hysteria," he said.
Early Tuesday, families were being escorted by police to a Chili's restaurant on the outskirts of the mall area to be reunited with others who had been in the mall for hours.
Althea Brown, 26, of Paterson told NorthJersey.com she was in a clothing store when she saw a man walk by and then heard three shots followed by two more. She said he appeared to be wearing body armor and was wearing a helmet with the visor pulled up.
Najde Waters, who works in customer service at H&M, said when they heard shots his manager and store workers followed an action plan they'd rehearsed for just such a scenario.
"We all prepare, like schools do. We have a plan where we all meet up in the back of the store and if we can exit together out the front we do, but in this case we had to exit out the back," Waters said.
He said they went to their meeting place near a light pole.
The mall, which has more than 270 stores, is located about 15 miles northwest of Manhattan.