Crabtree 911 calls filled with fear, anxiety, confusion
Posted August 18, 2016
Raleigh, N.C. — Calls poured into Raleigh's 911 center Saturday afternoon as shoppers and workers at Crabtree Valley Mall and their relatives responded to reports of a gunman inside the mall.
Police on Thursday released redacted recordings of nearly 300 911 calls – most were made between 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. Saturday – showing the panic that ensued as hundreds of people rushed from Crabtree or barricaded themselves inside stores.
"I was in Belk, and people just started running and screaming, saying, ‘There’s a gun. Somebody is shooting somebody. Get out of the mall! Get out of the mall!'" one woman told a dispatcher.
Numerous people said they heard something that sounded like gunfire, but few people reported actually seeing a gunman.
"There were gunshots, and everybody was running," one man said. "I'm in the military, sir. It was clearly gunfire."
"There was a shooting. One gunshot fired near Red Monkey (Tavern), about 20 to 30 yards from me," another man said.
"I heard a pop – four pops – and then people started running," said a third man.
A woman said her 14-year-old daughter and her friend saw a man point a gun at the ceiling and fire one shot, but their description of the man and his weapon was vague. A man said his mother also saw a man with a gun, but he had gotten separated from her and couldn't provide a description.
At least one caller said the noise wasn't a gunshot.
"I know what a gunshot sounds like. I have multiple firearms," he said. "It sounded like an explosion, almost like an M-80 firecracker."
Mall security even called 911 at one point to coordinate communications and described the incident as "an explosion inside."
Regardless of what it was, the idea of a gunman in the mall quickly spread and led to pandemonium.
"Everybody I saw, thousands of people were running out the door," said a man who was headed into Belk at the time. "By the time I got out the door, Lord, they were all flowing out of every door I could see."
"I was stampeded. I don’t have my shoes or anything," a woman said.
Store workers quickly herded hundreds of people into storage rooms and locked the doors or pulled down security gates in front of their stores for protection.
"Everybody's in a closet right now," said a woman inside Forever 21, choking back tears. "We have babies and kids in here, and they're shooting out there."
"I’m locked in the bathroom, the woman’s bathroom at Crabtree Valley Mall," said a woman, noting about 30 to 40 people were with her. "There’s about 10 just in my stall."
Some of those in the mall called or texted parents, spouses or other relatives about the possible shooting, and worried family members called 911 to get more information.
One man said his stepdaughter was hiding inside Victoria's Secret when her phone died. He gave a heavy sigh when the 911 dispatcher told him there was an active shooter situation at the mall.
"My mom’s in a dressing room at the Belk in Crabtree, and she’s saying people are screaming "shooter" and she’s locked in a dressing room," a girl said, getting emotional. "Is there a shooter? Is something going on?"
Dispatchers urged people to stay away from the mall to avoid adding to the confusion.
Those hiding in the mall also sought information and advice from dispatchers.
"People are running and screaming, and we don't know what we're supposed to do," said a woman hiding in The Children's Place. "Are we supposed to evacuate?"
"Should we remain in this closet, or should we run for it?" asked another woman.
Dispatchers told everyone who asked to "hunker down" if they were in a safe place but to seek safety if they were in the open.
In the midst of the chaos, there were other emergencies, such as a woman in labor, lost children and people injured in the stampede.
"We have a woman who has fallen and hit her head during all this chaos," a Belk's manager reported. "She passed out for a little bit, but we're keeping her awake."
"I have a pregnant woman in my restaurant that is going into labor," said someone at Fleming's Prime Steakhouse. "People came in because they heard shots in the mall, and the anxiety caused the woman to go into labor."
"I have somebody’s little girl," a woman said. "My oldest daughters were running out, and this woman was looking for her 13-year old inside, and she told her to go with them. I turned and I couldn’t find the mother. I just need someone to know where she’s at."
Raleigh police said they have talked to many of the 911 callers and have reviewed security video from the mall, but they still have no evidence gunshots were fired. Still, they haven't completely ruled out the possibility, so they have enlisted the FBI lab to analyze the audio recordings from inside the mall to see whether or not specialists can determine what that "gunfire" sound was.