As stated before, I have and, am mired in a failing marriage. My husband moved out of our home. On the sixth of December. I was distraught, as one is likely to be when something of the like happens. However, that very night he wanted to sleep at my house. Of course I agreed. If it were up to me, I would still have him sleeping next to me every night. I am not the one who ended things. But that’s beside the point. I was, and still am having a very hard time dealing with the fact that he is gone. Then, on December 11, there was an incident at the mall where I work.
I am a Store Manager, I will not name the company I work for because it is against the rules and, because I wish to keep this blog as anonymous as I can. That Tuesday afternoon, a crazed 22-year-old man opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle in the mall, while it was full of holiday shoppers, children, and workers. The estimate was 10,000 people in the building that day. The experience was terrifying. Loud. Chaotic. Tense. Stressful. Maddening. Scary. Helpless. And, a plethora of other emotions I can not even name.
The crisis counselors I have spoken with, have all said that telling the story over and over again can help with the stress. Since I consider my self a logical person, and really am irritated with the after-effect of the whole situation I am going to put my story to paper, er….blog as it were.
It was about 3:25 PM, I was near the front of my store. The Santa exhibit was directly in front of my store. I had wandered near the front , when I noticed a really creepy fat man in sweat pants attempting to “coyly” video the children. He had a small-ish camera in his gigantic creeper hands. I started making my way towards the cash register area so that I could call and alert security to the creepy child molester man. As I headed in that direction I came across four giant men. As in around six-foot five. I am only about five foot five if I have good shoes on, but my husband(for now) is six-foot one, and these guys were a good deal taller than him. So I walk up to them and ask if they are all related. They look at me bewildered for a moment and, I say “You guy’s are all giants, so I thought you would be related.” They tell me that they are not in fact related, but just prefer to hang with fellow giants. So I say “That’s cool, we like giants” Then, one of them says “Hey, it might be nothing but there is a weird guy out there recording the children” I tell him yes I noticed that as well, I think I’ll call it in.
Then, I head over to the phone and dial mall security. They answer, and I start to tell them about the man with the camera. In the middle of my sentence, I hear the first shots. At first, I thought something was falling. Like the giant Christmas tree. It is full of glass ball ornaments. But then, the pops kept coming. And equal times apart. Pop Pop Pop Pop. I yelled GUNSHOTS! GUNSHOTS!!! GUNSHOTS!! Into the phone, to which security replied “Oh my god. COPY COPY COPY!” I slammed the phone down and started getting people towards the back of my store. At this point, most of the folks in the mall realized what was happening, and since I was the closest to Santa, everyone who was in line to get a photo ran into my store. I was quickly filled with fleeing shoppers. Adults, children, even an old lady with a walker. I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket and attempted to call 911. The call would not connect. I thought about calling from the store phone, but I figured a lot of people probably had called already. Instead, I tried to figure out what was happening and make sure everyone was safe. Luckily, I had a few employee’s working with me that were good under pressure. When everything went down, all the customers that were inside my store ran into my back room. Seeing that everyone was doing the correct thing, and moving to the back away from the shots, I ran to the front with one of my employees to pull the gate. I had my cell phone in my hand when I noticed that the mall Santa was hiding behind a pillar. I motioned to him and mouthed “Santa, come here. Get in my store!” He shook his head No, so I pulled my gate and locked it. My back room is tiny. And that is an understatement. So, it quickly filled up. I opened to door to get in my self, when I turned and saw a young Hispanic couple with a small child in between them. I could still hear the gun shots going off, but I motioned for them to get in the back. I remember looking the Man in the eye’s, seeing his terror and then closing the door. Not knowing what I was going to do, or the other employee I had with me still. We ended up on the floor behind the cash register. At this point, I started trying to call my husband, who had just moved out about four days prior. The only thing I could think of was to call him and tell him I loved him, in case I died. He was understandably hysterical, as was I. I got off the phone with him and heard the panic alarm from my back door go off. One of the people hiding in my back room figured out that you can press the bar and the door will open. I ran back there to check on things and saw that all the people who were back there were gone, as was the one employee that stayed back there. I grabbed my store keys and turned the blaring alarm off so that the shooter would not be attracted to the store. I thought about turning the lights off, but at this point there were already armed police searching the mall and I did not want them to see shadowy shaped moving in my store and start shooting, so I opted to leave them on. Then the employee that ran out the back with all the customer’s came back. He had guided them all out side from the back hallways, instead of letting them inadvertently run back into the mall and in the line of fire. I also had one female employee who was out of the store at the time on a ten minute break. I frantically called my boss to tell him what was happening and that I did not know where the employee was.
Soon, some police came by and yelled at us to get in the back room so we did. I sat in the back room with my two employees, and the lone customer that did not run out the emergency door and waited. And listened. My cell phone shut down twice because every single person I have known was texting/calling to see if I was OK. And the store phone was off the hook. At one point a guest called to complain about a security device that was not removed. I apologized and explained that there was a shooter loose in the mall, in a whisper. She exclaimed “Oh my god! Don’t worry about it, please stay safe.” And, a local news station called to see if they could get an “insider interview”. I without cursing, explained to them that No. I would not be giving an interview as I was trying to stay quiet, and not get shot. (I am rather proud of the fact that I did not curse that woman out. We are trying to stay quiet and safe and she is calling the stores one by one to get an interview?!)
After what seemed an eternity, we started to hear a ruckus in the back hallways. Followed by a single gunshot. I motioned frantically for everyone to join me in the corner near the bathroom and away from the back door. We huddled there for ages, until I saw movement near the front of the store on my monitor’s. I went to the front to see what was happening and it was four armed police yelling at us to get a head count. I told him four, and he said grab your things we need to go. So we did. I grabbed my jacket, purse, and thought to do the same for the employee that was missing. We were ushered out surround by armed police.
When we finally got to the parking lot, we were all asked to get to our car’s and leave right away. I explained to them that I had an employee still missing so they told me to stay put. I waited. And waited. And finally, saw my employee walking towards me. I had let the police know who she was and they had told her where to find me I guess. I gave her jacket, and purse and then grabbed all three of my employee’s in a giant hug. I lost it. I just started bawling. I tend to do good in emergency situations, but freak out after.
So. I survived a mall shooting. Even helped save a bunch of lives. I have a little bit of PTSD. Loud noises make me flinch. The morning after it happened, a helicopter flew over my house and I rolled out of bed and hit the floor. But, I am logical about it. I know that this is normal, and will pass with time. There are crisis counselors still in the mall, two weeks later. I have spoken with a few of them, and they know my situation with my husband leaving me,and encourage me to seek professional counseling. Dealing with this alone is not good, but I still feel like therapy is for pussy’s. I am strong. I will get through this, like I always do. But, I miss him terribly. And I hate my self a little for only wanting to reach out to him when the shooting was happening. I just did not want to die without him knowing how I felt/feel. I now realize that he doe’s know. I’ve made sure of that over the year’s. And that is all I can really do.