Moving melee causes chaos at packed Mall of America

Some stores shut down Monday night as panicked shoppers fled. At least 10 youths were arrested.

A noisy, racing crowd of more than 200 young people created a chaotic scene at the packed Mall of America Monday evening, sending frightened shoppers scrambling for safety and causing some stores to close early, eyewitnesses and officials said.

It took more than an hour to quell the disturbance, which began about 4:20 p.m. as a single fight involving a large group in a food court and quickly spread through the nation's largest mall, said mall spokeswoman Bridget Jewell. Bloomington police and mall security arrested at least 10 juveniles and young adults on suspicion of disorderly conduct, police said Monday.

Mall officials said calm was restored about 5:30 p.m. However, many witnesses reported that fights continued to flare in the mall well after that. Metro Transit police said they broke up several fights outside the mall later in the evening. That agency's officers also monitored bus routes from the mall to Minneapolis, St. Paul and Brooklyn Center, and at a downtown St. Paul stop, four juveniles and an adult were arrested on suspicion of disorderly conduct.

Mall officials said that early in the incident, they did call for a lockdown in what they described as a premature and mistaken move, but they quickly rescinded that call. They also said that despite tweets and rumors to the contrary, no weapons were involved, no one was seriously hurt and no famous rap artists were on hand.

Several witnesses said the melee had elements of a "smash and grab" flash mob, including heavy use of cellphones. They said those creating the disturbance numbered in the hundreds and some knocked down shoppers and grabbed items from kiosks and shoppers.

Bloomington police Cmdr. Mark Stehlik verified that some groups were as large as 100 people and that more than 200 people total may have been involved, but said police received no reports of stolen merchandise.

Several stores, including Nordstrom, closed internal gates to the mall court, and a few stayed closed for the evening, one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

When Bloomington police arrived after the trouble began, the large group involved in a fight or fights in the food court broke up into smaller groups and raced through the mall, witnesses said.

More than 30 Bloomington police, as well as Metro Transit and Richfield officers, responded, said Stehlik.

Confusion and chaos

Shoppers were confused and frightened by the rampage, which some said had the look of a so-called smash-and-grab flash mob action.

"I was on the third-floor railing and saw a massive group of people [on the first floor]," said Makenzie Shofner, 15, of Maple Plain. "It looked like they were trying to pull people's stuff out of their bags."

Then, she and friends said, the crowd of teenagers and young people moved through the mall, knocking things over and sending shoppers fleeing into stores. "My heart was racing," Shofner said.

Her friend Hannah Betz, 16, also of Maple Plain, said the rampage was incredibly loud. "I'm used to screaming" from Nickelodeon Universe, "but this was a different kind of screaming," Betz said, adding that both those rampaging and those trying to get out of their way were screaming.

Brianna Berg, 32, of Coon Rapids, said she was going down an escalator when a large group of young people rushed up behind her. "I had to hold on tight. I was almost knocked down," she said.

Jennifer Reiland of Burnsville said in an e-mail that she was in Chico's about 5 p.m. when she heard an announcement that the mall was in "lockdown mode" and people rushed into the store. Chico's and a nearby Apple store locked their doors with customers inside, but soon opened them, saying the lockdown had been "a fluke," she said.

"An employee from DQ said that he had worked there for three years and had never experienced anything like this before," Reiland said. "There was definitely a scary hum in the mall and a lot of parents on their cell phones trying to find their kids. ... This was a harrowing experience for myself, my mother and my 5-year-old daughter."

Michelle Maher of Burnsville said she was in the Coldwater Creek store when staffers herded customers into a back room, saying security had declared a lockdown.

Employees "did not know what was going on, but I called my son and husband, who ... had witnessed a group of teenage men fighting," Maher said in an e-mail. "One was beaten to the ground. Lots of punches were thrown. We were held in the stock room for about 10 minutes.

"Later, at about 5:30, we were in The Limited and saw many, many teenagers running past. We decided to leave, as it did not appear that the problems were under control at all."

Maher said that in her view, the situation was serious enough to warrant a full and enduring lockdown.

Review to take place

Just after 9 p.m., Dan Jasper, the mall's vice president for public relations, issued this statement: "Bloomington police and Mall of America security arrested several individuals following a series of fights in the mall. Unfortunately, as we have witnessed at shopping sites across the country this week, large groups ... can come together and create bad situations. ... Our officers along with Bloomington police were able to respond immediately and quickly get the situation under control. No serious injuries were reported and the mall remained open. ... We will review our security efforts ... to see if any changes are required."

Stehlik said police and mall representatives will meet to review the incident.

"Right now, I can't say anything would have been done any differently," he said.

Staff writers Abby Simons and Pamela Miller contributed to this report. dchanen@startribune.com • 612-673-4465 sziegler@startribune.com • 612-673-1707

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