After gunshots rang out around noon Monday in front of Northwoods Mall, customers saw North Charleston police officers run inside the building.

SWAT team members soon arrived wearing helmets and clutching military-style rifles.

Jordan Blackstone didn't know it, but a man had been shot three times and seriously wounded in the parking lot outside a bookstore.

The 17-year-old Moncks Corner resident saw the authorities responding as she exercised at Planet Fitness. She was told to stay inside for 30 minutes, then most of the mall was evacuated.

"They kept us in the gym," she said. "I had no idea why we were being held there."

The measures were precautions as officers and deputies looked through the mall in case a gunman had gone inside. But when the search ended more than three hours later, no suspects were found inside, North Charleston Police Department spokesman Spencer Pryor said.

The ordeal closed the 996,000-square-foot mall at 2150 Northwoods Blvd. for five hours.

Nobody was immediately arrested elsewhere, and no suspects had been named. A family member identified the wounded man as 20-year-old Davin Jerome Aiken of North Charleston, but Pryor would not confirm that name.

The victim was in serious condition at Medical University Hospital, according to Charleston County EMS Director Don Lundy, but he managed to give officers his account of what happened.

He went to the mall around 12:30 p.m. to pick up someone he knows, Pryor said. But "some type of confrontation" occurred between the victim and the person he had planned to meet, Pryor said.

A gun was fired, and he was hit three times, according to Lundy.

Some witnesses said the gunman might have climbed into an awaiting vehicle, Pryor said, but others saw two black men running away.

Each was slim, had short hair, weighed about 140 pounds and stood between 5-foot-7 and 6 feet tall, Pryor said. One wore gray and brown camouflage shorts and a white T-shirt, and the other was dressed in long pants and a black shirt.

The scene played out in front of Books-A-Million and near Sears in the part of the mall closest to Rivers Avenue.

On the other side, Blackstone said police officers wouldn't tell anyone at Planet Fitness what was going on. She and the others were later asked to leave, Blackstone said.

The ensuing search, Pryor said, was meant to guard people's safety and "ensure that the suspect did not re-enter the mall."

But the 140 stores and restaurants handled the situation differently, he added. While many people left, some "sheltered in place" until the building was cleared.

With officers posted at entrances and a helicopter circling overhead, SWAT teams from the Police Department and the Charleston County Sheriff's Office held rifles as they moved from store to store.

They emerged around 4 p.m. By then, investigators had finished examining the crime scene. A green Mitsubishi sport-utlity vehicle was towed away.

The authorities shooed away would-be customers. One couple parked outside a nearby Carrabba's restaurant in hopes that the mall would soon reopen.

When that happened at 5:30 p.m., the gate at Journeys clothing store lifted, and an employee welcomed two waiting customers.

Trey Grant, 21, of North Charleston drove up to the mall hours after the shooting. Earlier, his cellphone had been bombarded with text messages from loved ones saying that his cousin, Aiken, had been shot there.

Grant feared that his cousin's ties to North Charleston's street life had prompted the shooting.

Aiken was arrested Jan. 19, 2013, on four counts of attempted murder, according to the State Law Enforcement Division. He had been linked to gunfire that wounded no one the night before near the Hawthorn Suites hotel just down the street from the mall, according to SLED and police records.

Aiken left jail Feb. 8 of that year on $75,000 bail, but what happened to the charges was not immediately known.

"Since then, he just got caught up in the wrong crowd," Grant said. "Somebody was mad at him."

Aiken had been trying to change his life, Grant said. He wanted to enroll at Trident Technical College and study computer technology.

"We had the same dream," Grant said. "We wanted to make video games."

As a helicopter buzzed over the mall, Grant surveyed the scene, perplexed about why someone would open fire at such a busy place during daylight hours.

"I guess he ran into somebody he was beefing with," Grant said. "The mall is probably the most common place for that."

Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede. Reach Natalie Caula Hauff at 937-5594 or Twitter.com/ncaula.