Nationwide, there were at least 18 shootings at American shopping malls between Nov. 18, 2004, and Oct. 8, 2008, according to accounts compiled by a retail trade group. Four additional shootings have been reported since Nov. 22 at malls in Seattle, Atlanta, Miami and Palm Desert, Calif. Combined, the 22 incidents left 38 people dead and 39 wounded.
More than half the shootings have occurred since Dec. 5, 2007, when Hawkins carried an AK-47 assault rifle into the Omaha Von Maur. The suicidal teen, who had been fired from his fast-food job and recently broken up with a girlfriend, killed eight people and wounded four before turning the gun on himself.
National security experts say incidents like Omaha have forced retailers to plan ahead for the possibility of violence.
In October, the National Retail Federation issued guidelines calling for large retailers and shopping centers to meet with employees, member stores and local police on the potential outcomes of an “active shooter.”
The guidelines recommend that stores consider things such as a rendezvous point for employees and that mall officials meet with local police to provide items such as building blueprints and master keys to mall doors.
The guidelines say store employees caught in the midst of a shooting must assess many factors, including whether it’s wisest to evacuate, hide somewhere or take action against the perpetrator. Those decisions should be thought through ahead of time and understood in the context of what police are likely to do in any situation, the report says.
Standard law enforcement procedure since the 1999 school shootings in Columbine, Colo., has been to hunt a shooter first and secure bystanders only after the threat is eliminated. That means that, in some cases, people caught in an incident might be bypassed by first responders or initially treated as suspects.
Joseph LaRocca, vice president of loss prevention for the National Retail Federation, estimates that 30 percent of American retailers have no plan for how to deal with an active shooter. A portion of the remaining 70 percent have only vague plans with no detailed procedures on how employees should respond, he said.
“We want people to assess the situation before they get involved in it,” he said.