An armed inmate escaped from a hospital in northern Virginia in the early hours of 31 March after shots were fired, Fairfax County Police have announced.

The prisoner, identified as Wossen Assaye by Fairfax police, was in custody of private security at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church, Virginia when he escaped. According to local news broadcaster WJLA, the suspect was being transferred from Alexandria jail at the time of the incident.

Assaye was held by Alexandria City on federal charges for armed bank robbery and had been taken to hospital after he attempted to harm himself, police stated.

Police said Assaye, wearing only a hospital gown and no shoes, is armed with the officer's weapon and is considered "armed and dangerous". WJLA described the runaway as a black male, 6 feet tall, weighing 170 pounds. He is said to have escaped on foot and may be hiding in nearby neighbourhoods.

Police spokeswoman Ellen Pittman told CBS News it was not clear who had opened fire in the hospital and whether there were any injured. Police later confirmed that only one shot had been fired and that no one was hurt.

The hospital and the surrounding are were on lockdown as the search for the escapee continues. Footage released by WJLA showed several police cars surrounding the hospital. Police announced on Twitter that the following roads were closed: Rt. 50 to Prosperity Avenue, Prosperity Avenue to Gallows Road, Gallows Road to Woodburn Road, and Woodburn Road to Prosperity Avenue.

The suspect may be with his girlfriend, whose photo was released on Twitter, police revealed.

Fairfax Police urged hospital employees to head to Falls Church High School to take a shuttle to get to the hospital as all surrounding streets were closed. Inova Fairfax Hospital has not released a statement, but has used its official Twitter account to transmit information regarding the manhunt.