COLUMBIA, Md. (WJZ) — As you might imagine, a number of people at The Mall in Columbia have incredible stories about what they saw and what they heard.
Rochelle Ritchie has the story of two people who came face-to-face with the gunman.
One of the witnesses watched as the gunman pulled the trigger, killing two people and barely escaping with his own life.
And a woman now sits in the waiting room at Shock Trauma, where her husband is undergoing an extensive surgery to repair his jaw after he was injured running to save his children.
In an exclusive sit-down interview, 27-year-old Chris tells WJZ how he was inside the store when the gunman opened fire on two employees.
Reporter: “What did you see when you walked into Zumiez? What was the atmosphere like in there?”
Chris: “I mean, there was nobody else in there besides the one… the male employee, the white guy, and the other female employee. At the time, I was the only other person in there when I first walked in.”
Reporter: “And how long would you say you were in the store before the gunman came inside?”
Chris: “Well, I think he was already inside because he didn’t come in through the front door, or, the front entrance. It was either through the back storeroom entrance or he just emerged out of one of the dressing rooms.”
Reporter: “What happened after you saw him pull the gun out and aim it at the female employee?”
Chris: “He shot her. He took one shot. And at that point, I think I got down below the other side of the counter and then 10-15, maybe not even 10 seconds later, I heard the second gunshot.”
Reporter: “What did you do at that point?”
Chris: “I basically just, like, scrambled out of the store on my hands and knees, right by the male employee, who was down on the ground… still alive.”
Reporter: “You’re out of the store at this point, other people are probably hearing the gunshots. What’s happening in the mall at that time?”
Chris: “When I got to my feet and I started running, I yelled, ‘Shooter! Call the police!’ And I just kept yelling that. And people just started running as well, but I really wasn’t, I mean… it was a blur. I was just running.”
His screams are heard by Shafon Robinson, who came face-to-face with the gunman. The barrel of the gun, she says, was pointed directly at her face.
“He looked at me, he cocked back and shot. My husband said ‘Duck!’ and he shot right over me at The Great Cookie,” she said. “I know he had the shotgun on like a belt on his arm.”
Shafon’s husband, 41-year-old Terrance Lilly, sees their two children on the second floor near the gunman. He runs to save them and suffers a serious injury.
“His face got injured because he hit the beam as he was running upstairs,” Robinson said. “He fractured three bones in his jaw. That’s why he has to have surgery.”
Lilly has several broken bones in his jaw and is now back in Shock Trauma. Robinson remains baffled by the events.
“Every time I close my eyes I see it,” Robinson said.
Two people both traumatized, and one living with a victim’s last words.
“He asked me if it was still bad outside and I told him, you know, it really wasn’t snowing yet but it’s going to be cold all week,” Chris said. “And he told me, ‘Yeah, he’s from Mount Airy and it’s kind of bad up there and he gets snowed in up there a lot.’ I was the last person he talked to before he died.”
“We heard about 10 shots; they were all pretty loud,” said one woman. “Protect them kids [was all I could think of]. They were all so little; one was a newborn. It’s horrifying. It’s sad.”
“I was next to McDonald’s,” said one woman. “I saw three people that were shot fall. I saw three people fall to the ground. I grabbed a kid and ran to Sears to keep them safe and then I went back to my job.”
“I was in the food court. There was a very large bang; everyone looked around, like, `What was that?’,” said a witness, known only as Beth. “Everyone was stunned and didn’t react. [Once we realized] we all ran. I hid under a table. I called 911 right away. I called 911 and the lady that answered seemed like it was something she hadn’t heard about yet. While I was on the phone with her there were three more shots, the last two sounded further away, like maybe the gunman was running away and then there was nothing after that. About 10 minutes after that the police were in the mall and yelling for us to get out immediately, but they did not stop us at the door or anything, they didn’t ask us to stick around and give our account or anything.”
Beth estimates there were close to 100 people at the food court.
“While I was on the phone [with 911], there were three more shots,” Beth said. “She told me not to move, to stay under the table.”
Once police told her to leave, she said she went home.
“I don’t see myself going back to the mall for a while,” Beth said.
“We stood there probably for an hour and I could smell smoke. I was concerned there was a fire,” said a witness, Marnie, who was there with her son. “We were one of the last ones coming out of the mall.”
Marnie said her son was hysterical.
“He said, `Mommy, are we going to get out of here alive?’ And you just don’t know,” she said. “You just don’t think it’s going to happen to you.”
“I was sitting at a table in the food court and I heard at first what sounded like someone throwing a trash can over the balcony, but then I heard it three more times… I hopped the counter at Arby’s and helped them escape through the back door,” said a witness named Henry. “A woman approached me (in the parking lot) who said she saw the guy with the gun and she described it to me as a shotgun. I heard what sounded like someone say ‘Oh no he’s got a .32, run!’ And then the woman I gave a ride home to said it was a shotgun. I counted about nine shots before I made it out the back of Arby’s.”
“My co-worker and I ran to the front of the store to help people get out the back of the store. When my co-workers and I went back to secure the store, we saw the bodies in the store across the way,” said David, who works across from Zumiez.
“I didn’t expect this when I woke up this morning that someone would be shooting here,” said one woman.
“We could hear the gunshots,” said a woman. “A nice lady is taking us home because we were dropped off.”
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