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A Saturday At Crossgates: Panic, Evacuation, And Many Unanswered Questions

For some it was a terrifying ordeal, for others a nuisance. Saturday afternoon shopping at one the country's biggest malls was interrupted by a report of gunfire that is still under investigation.

"Well, when I first found out it was because I was leaving a movie, you know we were in the movie theater, watching a matinee, came out and the lobby was filled with people, which seemed a little bit, at first, like, there was a lot of people for that lobby, but didn't question it, started walking out and was quickly stopped by an employee who said 'there's been an incident in the mall and you're bEing asked to stay here until police sway it's safe to leave.'"  WAMC Morning Edition host David Guistina was caught off-guard like so many others who populated Crossgates Mall Saturday... 

Crossgates was evacuated after reports of an active shooter on Saturday.
Credit Courtesy Adam Girard
Crossgates was evacuated after reports of an active shooter on Saturday.

Word quickly spread across social media, with posts relaying reports of a shooting around 2:30 p.m. near the Apple Store. Employee Adam Girard tells WAMC workers at the store could hear what sounded like gunshots and immediately went into emergency situation protocols.   "We heard at least two loud bangs and everybody got down, moved to the back, and we evacuated out the back door, made our way out to the parking lot, and kinda accounted for everybody here just to see that everybody was safe."

Initial reports indicated gunfire exchanges between two men. There were no reports of injuries. The suspect was  described as a 6-foot-tall black man weighing 200 pounds. There was a heavy police presence: at least 16 regional law enforcement agencies turned out to assist.

Back on the other side of the huge mall, Guistina and other moviegoers were herded back into the theater where they were briefed by officials before being directed to leave the building about an hour later.   "Two National Guard troops came right into the movie theater, armed, dressed in full gear. They said, 'Listen folks, we're here to get you out of the building now. Please, in orderly fashion, follow us, move along and please disperse to your cars. The exits are open for you to leave.'"

Other mall patrons weren't as fortunate, ordered to shelter in place, confined to whatever store they happened to be in, spending long hours waiting for an all-clear, eventually allowed to leave in shifts.   "As we left the movie theater, on either side of us, in a complete line like a barricade, creating a corridor, were armed personnel, from local police, sheriffs, National Guard troops, all lining each side, creating a corridor for us to leave the mall exits where you enter for Crossgates 18 theaters. There were helicopters circling over, police cars parked all entrances to the mall, blocking entrances to the mall, a pretty amazing situation, and knowing as we do, Dave, from our news reporting here at WAMC, certainly aware that the country was doing these kinds of shooter drills, and it appeared to me, having seen what was done, at least in our case, that it was handled by the numbers, and I think at the end I could hear a number of people thanking the personnel, including myself, as we’re leaving."

Guilderland Police Chief Carol Lawlor told reporters Sunday there was no reason to believe the public is in danger, and that it was now apparent a single shot was fired. The mall opened as usual on Sunday. Lawlor asked people to remain vigilant, requesting anyone with photos or video of the incident to contact authorities. 

On a Sunday morning back in June, a multi-agency emergency response drill was held at Crossgates so local law enforcement agencies could practice preparedness and communication.

When reporters asked if police would release a screenshot of the suspect, Lawlor promised she would "look into it," but as of Monday morning no picture had been released. Lawlor would not comment on whether the shooting might be gang-related and would not say whether police had found any bullet or shell casing at the scene.

Meanwhile, police and mall officials have been reassuring citizens it is safe to shop at Crossgates Mall. They characterize what happened Saturday "an isolated incident."

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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