Today was the first day of Spring Break and many of us were feeling restless because of the cold, rainy weather. Our friend Tracy told Christa that she was going to meet her mom at the Willowbrook Mall to get in some steps (she is also a member of our weight loss challenge). We decided to copy her and take Finley, Sophia, Isabella, and Charlotte to the mall and have lunch.
We said hi to Tracy and her mom, ate lunch in the food court and then decided to treat the girls to bears at Build a Bear. The girls were having a blast picking out bears, having them stuffed, and looking at accessories. The girls spent a couple of minutes looking at accessories when all of a sudden the Build a Bear Manager pulled the store gate closed. Christa and I both looked at each other and thought “Why are we being trapped in here?” Our minds immediately went to the worst place. The manager told us (the only customers in the store) that there was a mall shooter and we had to hide.
Christa and I were very alarmed and then the very kind manager, David, corralled the 6 of us and 2 other employees to the back. It was the scariest event ever. We did not know where we should go. We didn’t know if we should try and go out of the exit and get out of the mall or hide in the storage room. The babies sensed the heightened stress and started crying. All four girls were holding onto their new bears (that we had yet to pay for) very tightly. Ultimately David suggested we all go into the back store room and sit tight.
There were lots of thoughts running through my head. I remembered Willowbrook Mall had a shooting last month. I started questioning why I would take my kids to this particular mall. I wondered where Tracy, her mom, and two small daughters were.
Nobody knew what was going on. The manager tried to call the mall office, Christa called Brad, and I called Dave. We texted Tracy and found out they were in the food court. They had no idea what was going on and nobody would tell them. They were standing in front of a “very popular” food eatery when all of the mall restaurants shut their gates. We told Tracy “They told us there is a shooter on the loose and we are in a storage room in the back of Build A Bear.” Can you guys even imagine the fear that Tracy and her mom must have felt when we broke the news to them that there was a shooter out there and they were right out in the middle of the food court?
Here is where the problem lies. Tracy, her mom, 2 year old, and 8 week old were stuck outside of the gate. If you were unlucky and just walking around or were in the food court, you had no place to go. You did not have the protection of a metal gate and being hidden in back store room. Tracy’s mom tried to get information from the manager, but he was tight lipped. After the incident was over the manager ended up apologizing to Tracy’s mom.
The confusion and scary situation lasted for about 10 minutes. I have to say that David and his co-workers were the most professional, friendliest people we could have met. We were so blessed to have been in Build A Bear when this occurred. One of the employees offered the girls animal crackers and water. They were very calm and really made us feel like they cared.
Ultimately we heard several different reports. Our friend Tracy saw an ambulance carry a stretcher into the mall. The mall told David that there was a situation earlier at a jewelry store, but that a police officer took care of it. He was told the shooting APB was an accident. We later learned from our news station KHOU that a couple of men smashed and robbed (with a gun) a Zales in the mall while we were there. Many people thought the smashing glass sounded like gun shots.
I can say that this “very scary incident” made us really question whether or not we are safe at public malls in America. For over ten years Christa and I taught middle and high school and we were well versed on what to do in case of a school shooting. Texas school districts do an excellent job training faculty, staff, and students on procedures related to a wide variety of possible incidents (shooting, fire, tornado, etc).
This appears to not be the case of public malls. There was so much confusion and nobody knew exactly what to do. I asked the manager if the mall had practice drills for mall personnel in case of this type of situation. Sadly, the answer was no.
I am appalled that there were so many customers who were allowed to be “sitting ducks” when all the confusion was taking place. When I taught high school I was trained that if we had an emergency (intruder) we were to immediately coral anyone in the hall and then shut/lock the door. It makes sense that malls could implement the same type of protocol. In the event of a mall shooter, store employees would be told to coral any shopper that was in the vicinity.
What if there really had been a shooter on the lose in the mall. Is it right that a “very popular” eatery would protect their employees behind a metal gate, but let 2 women and 2 small children just stand there, not knowing what was going on?
If our legislators want citizens to continue to patronize busy places like shopping malls, there needs to at the very least basic safety procedures. When you are hired to work at the mall, you need to be trained on how to react in a crisis situation. I want to know in the future if it is safer for us to hide in a store room, or would it be better for us to try and flee out the back door and get out of the mall?
Please share this blog so that we can get this problem solved. The news has reported that terrorists are targeting American shopping malls. If this is true, law enforcement and government agencies need to make sure that both employees and patrons know how to respond.
Picture of us right after we found out it was a false alarm.
Our question for you is, what would you have done if you would have been in our situation?