Police still don’t know if the gunshots reported at Crabtree Valley Mall last Saturday were real, but the hundreds of emergency phone calls made just afterward show that the fear among mall employees and patrons certainly was.
The Raleigh Police Department on Thursday released some 300 phone calls made to the Wake County 911 center in the minutes and hours after the shooting was reported at about 2:32 p.m. The calls capture the confusion and uncertainty surrounding a noise that sent people running for shelter or for the exits and prompted police to close off the area around the mall, including Glenwood Avenue, for several hours
“We heard a loud crash and everyone was screaming and ran out,” a woman caller told a 911 dispatcher. “We’re hiding in the back room of Sunglass Hut.”
The woman said she and the people with her had pulled down shelves to block the door, which didn’t have a lock. The dispatcher told them to stay there until police came to tell them it was all right to come out – advice that dispatchers gave over and over again as calls came in from different stores.
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Another woman who had made her way out of the mall said she was on the second floor when she heard a noise from below.
“And then, like, all you heard was, like, people screaming, and there were two shots,” the woman said. “Someone said it was in the food court.”
The phone calls, as well as surveillance video and witness interviews, haven’t provided police with what they need to determine what caused the noise in the mall that set off the panic. Police said Thursday that they haven’t found any evidence of gunfire, such as shell casings, but they also haven’t come up with information that would rule it out.
Police say they have submitted a recording of the sound many people heard to an FBI laboratory, but the analysis is not complete.
Police say they spoke to people who said they had seen someone with a gun or had acted like they had fired a gunshot, but have ruled out those accounts “as being related to the sound that was heard.” Police say they also examined holes in the ceiling of the mall and determined that none of them were bullet holes.
Eight people received minor injuries, mainly in the rush to leave the mall, police said.
I heard the loud noise. Sounded like a gunshot, someone said they thought it was a gunshot, so I just ran
911 caller who said he worked at Crabtree Valley Mall
Police have had the 911 calls since Monday and were working to prepare them for release. The department redacted identifying information, such as names and phone numbers, from each call and altered the voices of the callers, as required by state law.
Many of the callers who reported a shooting were actually responding to the panic. At 2:32 p.m., a female mall employee called to report “an active shooter in the food court right now.” When the dispatcher asked where the shooter was, the woman replied, “By the McDonald's, right now, in the Flip Flop Shop.”
Then the dispatcher asked if she had seen the shooter.
“I did not,” she said. “We happened to be in a store, and everybody ran in.”
Less than a minute later, another woman, whispering softly, said she was hiding in a store on the second floor. “And we’re being held hostage,” she whispered. “Please come help.”
Many of the calls came from storage closets and back rooms of stores where employees and customers took refuge. Many other calls came from people who weren’t at the mall but had heard from friends and relatives that something was going on.
We heard shooting, and we ran out. I left everything, all my belongings, in the mall and just ran.
A worried mom called 911 after receiving a text from her son and daughter who were hiding with others in the dressing room of the American Eagle store.
“People are crying. They say there was a shooting,” the woman told the dispatcher. “They closed down the store. We don’t know what’s going on. They think a gun went off.”
In those cases, the dispatchers asked the callers to relay to people in the mall that they should stay put.
For some, that meant staying hidden for hours. At 5:30 p.m., a woman called from the Madewell store to ask how she and others who had locked themselves inside would know it was safe to come out.
“We think we hear police outside the door, but we just are wondering how are they letting people know that they’re outside the store. Are they calling the stores?” she asked. “If they're knocking saying, ‘Is there anyone in there,’ we don't want to open – you know what I'm saying?”
Others called hours after the incident to say they had seen or heard something that might be helpful. One man called just before 5 p.m. to say he had been near the Belk store when he heard an “explosion,” not a gunshot, about 20 yards behind him.
“I know what a gunshot sounds like. I have multiple firearms,” the man said. “It sounded like an explosion. Almost like an M-80 firecracker.”
As people started running, the man said he saw “kids” near where the sound had come from dart into a store.
“It almost seems like to me some kids pulled a prank and put a firecracker in a trash can and set it on fire, and everybody ran,” he said. “I did not hear any other explosions or sounds except for people running.”
The mall incident remains under investigation. Raleigh police ask anyone with information that might relate to the sound, and who has not yet spoken with a detective, to call the department’s tip line at 919-834-4357.