GARDEN CITY, N.Y. — It's the 11th most visited shopping mall in the country, and on Tuesday, violence visited Roosevelt Field Mall on Long Island, spreading pandemonium for a time through the sprawling shopping facility.
The shots that rang out, 20 days after the San Bernardino shootings, were treated by police and armed mall security as an active shooter scenario. It was instead an apparent robbery that was reminiscent of another crime from a year ago that's still not resolved. Tuesday's incident, however, is concluded for the most part, according to police, thanks to their quick action.
Minutes after the gunfire stopped, police had a man in handcuffs, and escorted him out of the west side of the mall, where the incident had taken place. Investigators said that the man, who they did not identify, tried to rob the Rolex watch section of the mall's Tourneau store.
He fired at least one shot around 1:00 p.m., sending shoppers running for their lives.
"All of a sudden," said Mary Sherry, who'd been waiting to get a photo with Santa, "everyone was running out of the mall. I got [trampled] on and that was it."
"Gunshot sounds," is what shopper Ada Doshi said she'd heard. "When people started stampeding and one woman said somebody's shooting outside, I started heading for the nearest exit."
Eyewitness accounts like those are reminders of why police treated this situation as if an active shooter was in the mall. None was there.
Still, when the gunman, an alleged robber, pulled the trigger, according to investigators, a bullet hit a 67-year-old man in one of his shoulders. They said that he's an employee of the mall who happened to be walking past the Tourneau store when he got hit. He was transported in serious condition.
Meanwhile, the thousands of customers doing last minute shopping here at the busiest time of the year said they'd just wanted to be safe when this happened.
"I heard a pop, and a loud shatter," Mark Smith said. He'd been hidden away with other customers and staff, in a safe room at the Bose audio electronics store for 90 minutes after they'd first heard gunfire. He said that workers in the store "said last year someone was smashing windows, to get Rolex watches. That's what we first thought it was."
He was referring to a crime that had taken place in September of last year. It lasted all of 18 seconds. That's how long it took for three men with heavy mallets to smash a display case in the same store where Tuesday's shooting took place, and make off with dozens of Rolexes. The stolen inventory is apparently still being tracked down.
That's not the case, however, in Tuesday's crime. Police said, in a press conference at the mall, that the suspect and the gun are in police custody. They did not identify the alleged shooter, or the person injured in the crime. Police said that on Wednesday morning, they'll release information about the man in custody. He's expected to make a first appearance before a judge Wednesday morning as well.
NYPD Inspector Kenneth Lehr, commander of the fugitive enforcement division, was the mall off-duty Christmas shopping and helped detain the suspect in the Tourneau attempted robbery.