Two Detained, Four Sought After Gunfire At Ross Park Mall
Ross Township Police detained two minors and are searching for four more people possibly connected to a report of shots fired Saturday at Ross Park Mall, Detective Sergeant Brian Kohlhepp told reporters.
No charges have been filed, but, based on interviews with witnesses, police determined as many as three shots were fired inside the mall. No injuries were reported. Officers recovered three handguns.
Police investigated reports of a second round of gunshots in a nearby neighborhood but said they were unable to determine if that incident was connected to the shots fired at the mall. Kohlhepp said police did not turn up evidence of a second shooting.
Speaking with reporters Saturday night, Kohlhepp said he could not comment on what prompted the gunfire. He said he saw a video of the fight on Twitter, however, “and it looks like it was just a simple fight that occurred and during that fight firearms were pulled.” The fight occurred near guest services between the mall food court and JC Penney.
“We are currently at an investigative disadvantage,” Kohlhepp said. He said the department repeatedly has asked the mall’s owner, Simon Property Group, to install a network of security cameras throughout the facility, but “they have continually refused to do that.”
“It would have been great for our [special response team] to be able to have eyes in and throughout the mall … as opposed to just sending officers in there blind.”
Kohlhepp said the department historically has relied on footage from individual stores that do have cameras. He urged members of the public to share any video or photos of the incident with Ross Township Police, 412-931-9070.
Kohlhepp said the evacuation of the mall went smoothly, and that no one was injured in the process.
“Luckily we’ve done a number of drills here, and we have good cooperation with the Ross Park Mall that helped us to facilitate that,” Kohlhepp said.
Pittsburgh Public Safety, Allegheny County Police, and officers from multiple departments in the North Hills all responded to the incident. FBI agents also were on the scene.
Mall Patrons Describe ‘Total Chaos’
Around 5 p.m., an altercation broke out near the mall food court, according to a witness who asked not to be named, saying she was shaken by the experience. The witness said she saw someone in a gray hooded sweatshirt fall to the ground and curl into the fetal position. Then everyone nearby started running, and she heard people yelling, “He’s got a gun,” and “Gun!”
The witness said people crowded into stores, and “they were clawing, trying to get into any store they could.”
“It all happened so fast,” she said. “I was holding an Auntie Anne’s pretzel in my hand and I threw it away … I was running as fast as I could.”
The witness said she and two relatives ran to the Banana Republic store, where workers rushed them to the back and closed the doors to the store. They sheltered there for 45 minutes before members of a police SWAT team led them through a back hallway and to the parking lot.
As the witness and her family members exited the building, an officer told them that it was safe outside but directed them to walk as far away as they could and get to their car. It took them roughly 30 minutes to leave the mall due to heavy traffic and a crush of emergency vehicles outside the mall, she said.
Hildy Heffernan of Sewickley said she was about to check out in the shoe department at Nordstrom when she heard a gunshot. She and other customers rushed into a stockroom and then outside through an exit. Hildy’s husband, Paul Heffernan, was elsewhere in the store.
“My first concern was finding Paul,” she said. “I didn’t know if he was hurt, and he didn’t know if I was hurt.”
Paul Heffernan recalled hearing a loud pop and glass shatter. He said he stood up on a chair and started calling his wife’s name until a Nordstrom employee told him he needed to leave the store. Once outside, Hildy and Paul found one another.
Hildy described the situation as “total chaos.” She said she and Paul gave an elderly couple a ride to their car on the other side of the mall near J.C. Penney and then left the mall property.
Mall owner Simon Property Group did not immediately respond to a request for comment.