Shoppers forced into cold after mall shooting, evacuation

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) —  Hundreds of shoppers were evacuated from the Providence Place mall on Monday after one person was shot in the parking garage, police have confirmed.

Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré said police are searching for multiple suspects and that the 19-year-old victim was targeted.

Many shoppers and staff had to leave their vehicles and personal items behind as they were ushered into the frigid conditions outside.

“We saw tons of cop cars,” Jamal Lee said. “We heard the sirens, they were grabbing rifles out of their trunks and shot guns, it was insane.”

Briana Casale was having her hair dyed and had on a shower cap as she evacuated.

“It’s really scary, I almost had a panic attack while I was in there because it’s just been a little too much today,” she said. “But hey, at least we got to rinse the dye out of my hair, so I guess that’s good.”

One shopper almost ran out of the mall not wearing shoes when told of the evacuation.

“A sales associate came up to us and said, ‘There’s an active shooter in the building – we need to evacuate immediately,'” Alexa Cabral recalled. “So we just left everything behind and had to even go back because I didn’t have any shoes. So we just evacuated through the back of J. Crew and then found ourselves in the back hallway of the mall, and we had to figure out how to get out.”

Erin Moran said she and a friend were in the food court and heading to get a haircut when the alarm went off.

“We saw some people start looking up, looking around, trying to find a way out, but there wasn’t an actual announcement,” she said. So we just went back to go get our hair cut.”

But Moran said after she and others began getting texts about a reported shooting at the mall, they pulled down the gate of the store they were in and hid in a back room.

“Eventually a police officer did come around,” she said. “They said, ‘We need everyone out now.’ And they ushered everyone down the stairs and out the door.”

On social media, residents who said they were at the mall described the high anxiety among shoppers as word of the shooting spread and the evacuation began. Marlene Gonzalez, a mall worker, said she and other employees were instructed to hide in a stock room, and they spent about 20 minutes there before the evacuation.

“Instead of going the other way where they were chasing people, we just went to the stock room and hid,” Gonzalez said.

Tahlia Vazquez, another employee at the mall, said she knew something wasn’t right when she saw several cop cars pull up to the mall.

“All we see are a bunch of cop cars pulling up out of no where,” Vazquez said. “Cops were running inside with their guns already out.”

Vazquez said at the time she had no idea what was going on, but saw police rushing into the mall from her job on the first floor.

“Two minutes later all you hear are the cops yelling to everyone, ‘Everyone get out, everyone leave now!'” Vazquez recalled.

According to Vazquez, she and her coworkers hid behind the counter as they witnessed the chaos unfold. She said it wasn’t until a coworkers wife called that the group realized what was going on.

Other employees also reached out to Eyewitness News frustrated about the lack of communication.

Chief Hugh Clements said Providence police routinely train with mall security to prepare for situations like this one.

“There’s always going to be that chaos, in the initial moment that’s proceeding the shooting,” he said. “They practice to shelter in place and secure themselves and wait for professionals to come, the providence police, to secure the building, they did exactly that.”

Some shoppers were able to take refuge from the cold in the lobby between Panera and P.F. Chang’s after the mall was evacuated.