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Shooters and Skirmishes In Public Places: What To Do?

David Guistina
Gunfire at Crossgates Mall prompted an evacuation and a lockdown on a Saturday in 2016.

A false report of a possible gun at Albany-area mall Colonie Center over the weekend sent shoppers running for safety. Officials say it’s always good to be prepared.

Colonie Center was briefly placed on lockdown late Sunday afternoon after reports of shots fired. Police were dispatched to the mall's food court around 5:15 p.m. A man who did have a gun was eventually arrested on other charges.

Lt. Robert Winn with the Colonie Police Department says the incident stemmed from a dispute the man was having with another patron.   "He came out of the bathroom at one of the stores there. He had plugged his cell phone in to be charged. When he exited the cell phone was missing. He became irate due to that and pretty much anyone within earshot, he was yelling at, threatening, and even at one point he stated he had a handgun. No handgun was ever displayed or seen. Also during that dispute he used his hand and struck a kiosk that was nearby several times and made some loud noises with that that echoed through the mall that were misinterpreted to be gunshots."

The noise caused a small panic. There were about 50 911 calls reporting "shots fired."

It wasn’t the first such incident at shopping areas in our region.

Two people suffered minor injuries in November when a gun discharged on a Sunday afternoon at the Galleria at Crystal Run in Middletown, crowded with holiday shoppers at the time.

A year before that, shopping at the Albany area's Crossgates Mall was interrupted when gunfire rang out near an Apple store.  21-year-old Tasheem Maeweather was sentenced in Albany County Court the following June, given 3-½ to seven years for felony reckless endangerment.

Guilderland Police Chief Carol Lawlor tells WAMC a few months before that, a multi-agency emergency response drill was held at Crossgates so local law enforcement agencies could practice preparedness and communication. The town can help individuals prepare as well:  "I'm talking about a free two-hour course that we provide called 'Civilian Response To Active Shooter Events.' We will be offering it in the near future. We've offered it for several years here in Guilderland and it's a very popular course for people to take and it does give you some strategies to protect yourselves and reduce the dangers that people face during an active shooter event."

Lawlor adds it is generally safe to shop at Crossgates or any other mall. Lt. Winn says whenever unexpected sights or sounds are encountered in such public places people should try to stay aware of their surroundings.   "Know where the nearest exit is. So the first advice is always to try to remove yourself from the situation. To get away from it. To get to safety. If possible, contact 911 to let them know what is going on and what you have seen and have observed. In the case of the situation in case this had been a real incident, a real active shooter, the national mantra about that is very simple to remember: it's 'Run, Hide, Fight.'  So that would be run, get away, escape. Hide if you cannot. If you're not in a position to escape, if the threat is between you and the exit, make yourself scarce, try to hide yourself. And as a last resort, if you come face to face with somebody who's a threat and it's now your life or theirs, the mantra is to fight."

And what should you do if you come upon a public fight or other disturbance?   "Some people do walk away and leave the area. And other people unfortunately choose to stay, sometimes putting themselves in danger just to videotape an event that is taking place."

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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