NEW YORK — Westfield Garden State Plaza in Paramus, N.J., remained closed Tuesday in the wake of a shooting incident that left the lone gunman dead of a self-inflicted wound.
Shoppers and employees of the sprawling 2.2-million-square-foot mall were unharmed, but some were trapped inside the mall on Monday night, which was under lockdown while authorities searched for the gunman. He was identified as 20-year-old Richard Shoop of Teaneck, N.J.
“First and foremost, the safety of Westfield Garden State Plaza shoppers and employees is paramount and always a priority; and we are so very grateful that all our customers and employees are safe,” Westfield Group said. “We are also very thankful for the rapid and comprehensive response of local and regional law enforcement. Per Bergen County authorities, Garden State Plaza will be closed on Tuesday, Nov. 5. We will continue to advise of the mall’s operational schedule. Clearly, yesterday’s event heightens everyone’s state of awareness and concern. Our security precautions reflect that heightened state. Once cleared to reopen, we will continue to work with law enforcement and public safety officials to keep our shopping center safe.”
The terror began at about 9:20 p.m. when a gunman reportedly dressed in black with a motorcycle helmet and possibly wearing body armor and carrying a rifle made to look like an AK-47 entered the mall near Nordstrom. He fired random shots as he allegedly walked through the mall brandishing the weapon. About 500 SWAT and law enforcement officials descended on the mall. Meanwhile, 400 shoppers and employees were reportedly trapped inside as police conducted a sweep of the facility after the shooter had been discovered dead.
The incident took place just as retailers were advertising their holiday promotions.
In an update on its Facebook page, Garden State Plaza said Tuesday that it would open today at 6 a.m. for retailers and their employees so they could prepare their stores and collect any personal items left behind. It will open to the public at 10 a.m.
David Levenberg, former vice president of security for General Growth Properties Inc., said there are still unanswered questions. “How did he get the rifle in there?” he asked. “Was it visible from the parking lot? What happened once the gunfire erupted? Some witnesses said they weren’t told what to do or where to go.”
The National Retail Federation produced active shooter training for the retail industry several years ago. “Malls try to do two full-scale evacuation drills a year,” said Malachy Kavanagh, a spokesman for the the International Council of Shopping Centers. “They can’t do enough training because there’s a lot of retail turnover. The Department of Homeland Security created a program that deals with active shooters. It’s very much on everybody’s radar screen.”
In fact, Richard Mellor, a security expert who serves as vice president of loss prevention at the NRF, had a previously scheduled meeting with the Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday, the organization said.
The Garden State Plaza mall gets 20 million visitors a year and rings up over $400 million in sales. One of the largest centers in New Jersey, it’s also one of the busiest and most productive in the state.
The last active shooter incident in a mall occurred in December 2012 outside Portland, Ore. In September, the Roosevelt Field mall in Garden City, N.Y., was under lockdown after a gunman shot two people at a nearby office complex. “They’re a rarity,” Kavanagh said of mall shootings, but added, “In society, shootings seem to be happening more often.”
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