KENTWOOD, Mich. (WOOD) - Three separate incidents in a short period of time forced stores at Woodland Mall to close their doors for about an hour Monday night. Despite what some shoppers said on social networks, the police said no shots were fired.
Chief Richard Mattice told 24 Hour News 8 about the three incidents that began in the early evening:
- A fight broke out between two women in their 20s in the mall parking lot
- A short time later, about eight teens got into a fight at the Sears end of the mall
- Then, at the JC Penney's end of the mall, another fight involving about 20 teens began.
While an officer chased one of the suspects in the Sears fight, another teen hit him and knocked the suspect unconscious.
Mall management decided to close down some stores to allow their security and Kentwood police to handle the situation. That's when, Mattice said, frightened customers said they heard loud bangs, like gunshots.
No shots were fired, Mattice said. The loud sounds were probably the gate that closes off the front of a store begin shut down and a large garbage can being knocked over.
Investigators said they found no evidence of a gun being fired or waved by anyone involved.
But, the chief said, if a witness saw something different, police want to hear about it.
"Anybody who witnesses something, we need to find out and investigate," he said. "If there is a person out there who is a danger to others with a firearm, we certainly would like to know about that."
The main problem, he said, is kids with nothing to do over Christmas break causing trouble.
It's not clear what security procedures related to the safety of customers are in place, or if they were followed Monday night.
No one in management at Woodland Mall was able to appear on camera. They spent part of their day meeting with Kentwood Police discussing the incident.
But Lisa Pellicciotta, the Regional Marketing Director for Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust - the company that owns Woodland Mall - told 24 Hour News 8 they're looking at the situation.
"We are looking at ways to implement a pro-active plan so we can handle these things if they occur in the future," she said.
Eric Nykamp wasn't near the action, but it was obvious something was going on. Rumors spread about trouble at one end of the shopping center.
"Then there was a lot of screaming and you could see a huge crowd of people running," he told 24 Hour News 8. "They didn't say, 'Go to the back of the store, we'll let you out the back.' Nobody seemed to know what to do at all. And that was pretty upsetting."
Nykamp is a therapist, specializing in the treatment of people suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder . He said seeing crowd of people "screaming and running is terrible."
"No one's saying the mall's closed. No one's saying to evacuate the building. There's just no information at all."
There appeared to be a lack of communication between mall management and patrons, he said.
"One of the things that helps people in trauma is to be able to put together a story that makes sense and when those details are missing, the healing process is really hard to go through," Nykamp said.
In a statement on their Facebook page, Woodland Mall officials said:
MESSAGE TO OUR VALUED SHOPPERS: Woodland Mall Management is deeply concerned about the disruptive incidents that occurred last night when the mall was very busy with post-holiday shoppers. We would like to clear up the rumors and advise you that the fights were physical only - there were no weapons and no one was injured. Please be assured that we are taking necessary and proactive steps to strictly enforce our code of conduct and are working closely with the Kentwood Police Department to increase police presence at the center and ensure a safe, family-friendly shopping environment. Loitering and fighting will not be tolerated. Those who violate the mall's policies will be banned from the mall and subject to prosecution if applicable. The mall is open 9am to 10pm today. Thank you for your continued patronage and support of Woodland Mall's retailers.
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