A man fatally shot in the parking lot of a suburban Maryland shopping centre was coming to the aid of a woman being threatened at gunpoint, according to court files.

That woman was one of two allegedly approached by a gunman on the run who was attempting to carjack their SUVs, court records show.

"I'm not kidding I will shoot you," he told the woman after flashing a black handgun at her outside Montgomery Mall in Bethesda, Maryland, according to charging documents.

Malcom Winffel, 45, of Boyds, was one of five other people Eulalio Tordil, 62, of Adelphi, allegedly shot less than 24 hours after gunning down his estranged wife in the parking lot of a high school.

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The shooting rampage ultimately killed three and wounded three others. Montgomery police recovered a .40-calibre handgun in the car after they arrested him on Saturday, court documents state.

He was arrested in Aspen Hill in Montgomery County at the end of a series of shootings that police say began with his alleged attack on his wife on Friday in Prince George's County. A man wounded in the school lot also was a bystander who, police say, tried to come to the aid of Tordil's wife.

Police swarmed Tordil, who was in his car in a lot close to the Aspen Hill shooting site, and after pulling him from the vehicle asked whether there was anything inside police should know about, the charging documents state. According to the document, Tordil replied, "the gun".

Police today identified the woman shot inside her SUV in Aspen Hill as Claudina Molina, 65, of Silver Spring.

Montgomery police called Winffel heroic. "Malcom gave his life for someone he doesn't know in order to protect her from a predator," Assistant Chief Russ Hamill said.

Hamill said the people shot in Montgomery during the mayhem appear to have been random targets that stemmed from Tordil's attempted carjackings.

Montgomery County police announced Tordil was being held without bond in Montgomery on two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of attempted first-degree murder and related handgun charges. Tordil is expected to have a bail review hearing on the Montgomery County charges on Tuesday.

Winffel was heading into Montgomery Mall for lunch with a friend when he saw a woman running towards him and screaming for help, Winffel's sister Pilar Winffel said.

As Malcom Winffel and another man ran to help the woman, who was at the mall to return a piece of merchandise, the gunman fired, leaving her brother fatally wounded, according to Pilar Winffel and court documents.

At a vigil at Clarksburg High School, Winffel's wife, Norma, said her husband was a kind and caring father and family man best known for his sense of humour.

"I will miss him dearly," she said. "Everyone in the world who met him said he was a gentle giant. He was a loving man, a funny, funny guy who could make you laugh in the worst of times."

The couple's son and daughter attend Clarksburg High. At the vigil, Kayla also called her father a hero and in his memory wore a shirt bearing the emblem of Captain America. "It doesn't feel real," she said addressing the gathering of about 100. "You're never going to be walking in the front door again."

Winffel worked in the facilities department at the Carderock division of Naval Sea Systems Command in Maryland.

The shootings in Montgomery County followed a manhunt for Tordil after police said he killed his wife, Gladys Tordil, 44, as she sat in her SUV in a school parking lot waiting to pick up her daughters.

In addition to those killed, the bystander who tried to intercede at the school scene and two people at the mall were wounded in shootings.

A protective order that Gladys Tordil requested in March alleges Eulalio Tordil physically abused her and her children over the course of a decade and that he had threatened to harm her if she left him, according to court records.

Tordil, an officer with the Federal Protective Service since 1997, was stripped of his service gun and badge and placed on administrative duty after a judge granted the protective order. Authorities also seized several of his personal weapons after the protective order was granted.

After those weapons were taken from him he obtained the gun he allegedly used in the Montgomery shootings, Hamill, the assistant chief said without further details about that process. Hamill said - and charging documents state - that ballistics tests showed that gun removed from Tordil's car was the weapon used in the fatal Montgomery shootings and that tests were being done to determine whether the same weapon was used in the shooting of Tordil's estranged wife.

Federal officials said Tordil worked as an inspector for the agency, supervising guards who work in federal buildings.