Paramus, NJ - A person with a gun opened fire on Monday evening in a massive New Jersey shopping mall shortly before closing time, leading police to evacuate the mall and search for the shooter, a county official said.
Bergen County spokeswoman Jeanne Baratta told The Associated Press that a call went out that shots were had been fired at the Garden State Plaza Mall shortly before the facility’s 9:30 p.m. closing time. She said authorities found one bullet casing.
Hundreds of law enforcement officers converged on a mall, which was put on lockdown. New Jersey State Police landed a helicopter in the parking lot of the 2.2-million square foot facility, one of the state’s largest and most popular shopping malls.
Baratta said SWAT teams and police with K-9 units were going through the mall and working to evacuate anyone who is still in there. As of 11:30 p.m., authorities believed there were still people in the mall, she said.
Jessica Stigliano, 21, of Richfield, told the AP that she was sitting in the mall’s food court when she saw people running and yelling “shots were fired.”
Stigliano said she also began running. She said at the time she was thinking, “Not many people run for their life, but that’s what I’m doing right now.”
She did not see a shooter. “It was scary to think that you could be that close to something like that,” Stigliano said.
A manager at Chili’s at Garden State Plaza told the AP they were on lockdown and could not leave. She said a manager at Nordstrom ran over to use the phone saying there had been a shooting. She did not say if the Nordstrom manager witnessed it.
Althea Brown, 26, of Paterson told NorthJersey.com she was in a clothing store when she saw a man walk by and then heard three shots followed by two more. She said he appeared to be wearing body armor and was wearing a helmet with the visor pulled up.
Several frightened customers sent tweets saying they were escorted from the mall by armed state troopers. One woman wrote that she ran from the mall “screaming.”
The family of Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, popularly dubbed “America’s Rabbi,” were among those trapped in a New Jersey mall after multiple shots were fired shortly before closing time Monday.
In a lengthy Facebook post he titled “My Family’s Terror at the NJ Garden State Mall,” Boteach shared Monday night’s dramatic events as an eye-witness, and perhaps a key player in mobilizing NJ police.
As Boteach and the youngest three of his nine children entered the Best Buy electronics store to collect his wife and 15-year-old daughter, they were met with panicked, fleeing customers shouting, “Shooter. Run!”
Boteach described how he and the three children turned around and ran to the parking lot where he attempted to make contact with his wife.
“There is no need to think. I am not in shock but clear-headed. There have been so many shootings lately in America that I know exactly what this is,” Boteach wrote.
After several tense moments the rabbi made contact with his wife and learned his family is in hiding. He called 911 emergency response which advised him to tell his wife to continue hiding and not come out.
It is at this point that Boteach the famous “macher” began to work his contacts, starting with the owner of the mall who alerted the head of security of the family’s location.