By Caroline Sweeney
While typing in the rewards information for a young woman I was ringing up at Aerie in Springfield Mall, I was suddenly interrupted by my frantic manager, who demanded her store keys resting in the draw under my keyboard. I tossed her the keychain and continued ringing up the customer.
Handing her the large Aerie bag, I smiled before bidding her goodbye and moving on to the next customer.
Once again, I started to type in the rewards information of my new customer when she asked me, “Why are the doors on the store closing?”
I quickly looked up and watched as the gate of Aerie closed; then I looked through the archway connecting Aerie and American Eagle and also saw their glass doors being slammed shut.
I slowly shook my head no at the new customer before a young mom rushed at me. She had an iron grip on her young son’s hand and had an exacerbated look on her face. “Can I take my son and hide out in your fitting room?”
Unsure of what was going on, I nodded at her; she then turned to the line of people in front of me and said that there was a shooter at the mall.
Shootings have become something people hear about fairly regularly, and even though events like this happen all over the world, people don’t think about what they would do if it happened to them.
Now I found myself in that position.
I live in a middle-class suburban area of Delaware County called Ridley Park, about 15 minutes from the Springfield Mall. Events like this are something that I only hear about on the news, and never imagined it would happen so close to home.
I have worked at the mall in Aerie for about two and a half year and never considered that a shooting is something I would need to worry about. It is something that doesn’t happen in my neighborhood.
I was terrified.
The mother quickly turned around, making her way to the fitting room. I had no idea what was happening or what to do. I was hoping that someone would have said something over the headset all the employees wear, but it was silent.
Out of reflex, I continued ringing through the line that had accumulated. I also kept looking around to see if other store had closed their doors and gates as well, but people did not seem to be panicking.
Finally, my manager informed the employees that we would being going into lockdown. She ran to me, saying, “Finish everything you’re doing, grab everyone in your store and get over to the American Eagle side.”
At this point I was shaking a little. I rushed back to the mother and took her to the other side of the store. I could tell she was extremely upset and scared, so I tried to keep my emotions under control, so I wouldn’t upset her further.
In fact, my coworkers and I all had to hide our emotions as we rushed to move people to the back of the store and check out all the remaining customers in line. There were about 30 customers in the store and 10 employees. Once everyone was in the back of the store, we just had to wait.
I watched as my three managers rushed around making phone calls and explaining the circumstances to annoyed and confused customers. My coworker Kelli, who had just returned from her break, came up behind me. “What is happening?” she asked. “Someone said there is a shooter? This is insane!”
At this point, I had a better idea of what was happening in the mall. I knew that there was someone with a gun, but they he was outside of the mall. The knowledge of that seemed to have spread through the store and added a small sense of security for everyone.
After answering several questions from customers and replying to concerned text messages from friends and family, a police officer violently knocked on the front doors.
The officer began escorting us out of the store and through the empty mall. Armed police lined the sides of the corridors, creating a walkway for us.
When everyone was finally outside, our customers rushed to their cars while the rest of my coworkers and I waited for our managers in the cool October air. The parking lot was littered with police officers from several townships, onlookers watching the chaos, and news reporters with their camera crews.
Despite the intense circumstances, we were able to relax. Our manager eventually came out carrying all of our personal items that we were not allowed to grab when we were evacuated.
Eventually, management announced that the mall would be closed for the rest of the day and reopen the next morning. We were informed that no one was injured, but the idea of “What if…” kept creeping into my thoughts.
Once I was finally home, I found out that a result of a fight between two groups of people. The exchange began in the mall before moving to the parking lot, where multiple shots were first fired.
Several cars were hit by bullets; those involved in the shooting fled the mall, and no arrests have been made.
But my heightened adrenaline did not subside until the next day. I found myself more anxious and stressed than usual. I never thought I would have this experience until I did.
Contact Caroline Sweeney at firstname.lastname@example.org