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UPDATED at 7:42 p.m. with death of victim.

ST. LOUIS COUNTY • A gunman fatally shot a woman and sexually assaulted at least one person at a Catholic Supply store in a strip mall on Manchester Road Monday afternoon before disappearing, police said.

The 53-year-old shooting victim later died, police said Monday night. 

A manhunt was still underway several hours after the shooting, reported at 3:19 p.m.

A police spokesman said at a press conference about 5 p.m. that investigators had "no idea" of a motive and that the man did not appear to know the victims. McGuire encouraged anyone with information or who saw anything suspicious to call 911 immediately.

"We have a loose, armed gunman out there who's already shot one person," St. Louis County Police Sgt. Shawn McGuire said.

He said the woman was critically injured in the shooting and taken to a hospital. In a later press briefing, McGuire said that she had died.

He released no other information about her, including whether she worked at the store.

Witnesses described the attacker to police as a white man, about 5 feet 7 inches with a heavy build and age 45-50. He was wearing a black jacket and blue jeans with a large belt. He was wearing a black or gray hat. Police were searching the area for the gunman.

"No detail is too small to report," police said.

Police shut down the shopping plaza, in an unincorporated area of the county near Queeny Park, on the north side of Manchester Road between Interstate 270 and Highway 141. McGuire said officers searched the area and weren't sure if the man left on foot or in a vehicle.

They asked people to avoid the area as police investigated.

"Our hearts go out to the victims of this horrific tragedy at Catholic Supply," Archbishop Robert J. Carlson said in a statement. "We are praying for these victims, especially the victim in critical condition at this time. We join with civil authorities asking for the community’s assistance in apprehending the culprit of this crime."

Catholic Supply tweeted: "We’re asking for prayers for those involved and their families."

Officers were first brought to the scene by a 911 caller who reported that the shooter went inside the store and ordered women inside to strip at gunpoint, and sexually assaulted several of them before shooting one of them in the head. McGuire said at least one sexual assault had occurred inside the store, but did not know how many victims there had been.

Shala Malik, 32, was helping a customer at her family store, Salam Market, in the same shopping center shortly before she saw two police cars pull up to the store next door.

Within minutes, more police vehicles and an ambulance arrived.

"All I could see were flashing lights," Malik said.

She caught a glimpse of paramedics carrying a woman out of the store on a stretcher, she said. Officers told her that a man had shot her inside. She wondered if the shooter was trying to rob the store.

"It was very shocking for us," she said. "I'm surprised I didn't hear any shouting or anything."

Malik was used to seeing three women who worked at the store, but didn't know their names, she said. They would sometimes buy food from Salam Market, and she would sometimes pick up mail that had accidentally been delivered to their store.

Several family and friends were calling Malik to ask if she was OK, she said.

"We are next door," she said. "I kept wondering, 'what if it was me?'

"It's all so, so sad. I hope they find the guy who shot her."

The Catholic Supply store is one of three. The other two are in O'Fallon, Mo., and on Chippewa Street in the St. Louis Hills neighborhood.

Denise Hollinshed, Nassim Benchaabane and Rachel Rice of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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Christine Byers • 314-340-8087

@christinedbyers on Twitter

cbyers@post-dispatch.com

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