GPD still looking for teens who sparked mall chaos

More than a month has passed since a group of teens set off firecrackers at the Oaks Mall, sending store employees and shoppers running for cover and forcing a lockdown by local law enforcement.

According to Gainesville Police Department (GPD), none of the five teen suspects have been identified.

On Jan. 8, 2022, at 6:11 p.m., multiple units responded to the Oaks Mall at 6419 W. Newberry Rd, “in reference to a reported active shooter,” the GPD incident report states.

Become A Member

Mainstreet does not have a paywall, but pavement-pounding journalism is not free. Join your neighbors who make this vital work possible.

The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) received multiple calls of shots being fired near the food court and among the calls, someone reported they saw a person fall to the ground after loud bangs, the report states.

Law enforcement determined the sounds to be from firecrackers being set off on the ramp in front of the T-Mobile shop near the food court, and the person who fell was not located, the report states.

The incident drew at least 15 GPD officers, an ACSO unit, and five deputies to the scene and one woman reportedly fell during the chaos and was injured.

The incident report states that, “Due to the call type and information known at the time, all police units who responded acted under the belief there was a possible active shooter. The mall was evacuated of all customers, and all the stores were shut down. A security sweep of the entire mall was done by several units, which confirmed there was no active shooter, and no gunshots fired or shell casings found.”

Stores went into lockdown, dropping metal gates and some shoppers and customers hid in back rooms for safety.

“Out of nowhere a loud commotion and popping noises,” Rhiannon Roberts, an assistant manager at Francesca’s Boutique, said about what she witnessed. 

“We had a boutique full of customers and we looked at each other, then saw a sea of people running, screaming, yelling and trying to get out. Customers looked at us like what do we do? So we grabbed them and took them into the back room.”

According to the report, “It was described to LEO [law enforcement officers] inside of the mall that five juveniles were observed lighting a bag of firecrackers and throwing them onto a ramp in front of the T-Mobile store. The juveniles were described as black males, who then ran towards Dillards and toward the center of the mall outside of the area.

“Follow-up will need to be completed to gather footage from the security cameras of T-Mobile,” the report stated, although no images or security footage screen captures have been shared with the public to identify the teenagers, if such footage exists.

GPD then collected “leftover firework paper” in hopes of gathering fingerprints, the report stated.

Photos were taken of the ramp, “which had damage that appears to be burned in the floor from the firecrackers,” according to the report.

After the building was cleared and safe, the scene was turned over to mall security which allowed businesses to reopen, the report stated.

One officer reported in the case supplemental report that GPD got a call, “stating that a subject may have been shot [and] was hiding inside the bathroom.”

That officer reported that they, “cleared the women’s bathroom by the food court with department issued handguns and did not locate any person shot.”

Lindsay Kahn, spokesperson for the Oaks Mall, later denounced the incident in a phone interview.

“We took it very seriously,” she said. “It’s a violation of code of conduct and we have zero tolerance.”

Kahn said mall security is working with GPD, which is in charge of the investigation.

According to the incident report, “The mall itself does not have security cameras installed.”

Mainstreet Daily News reached out to Kahn for comment on whether the mall has security cameras or plans to install them.

GPD spokesperson Graham Glover said no charges have been established in the incident for when and if the suspects are apprehended. 

“We’re not sure yet, given that they are juveniles,” he stated in an email response. “I’ve asked my detectives to keep me updated as things progress and charges are filed.”

Anyone with information about the incident can contact GPD non-emergency dispatch at 352-955-1818 or on the virtual front desk app.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments