By Rashed Mian, Timothy Bolger & Christopher Twarowski
Nassau County police are investigating an armed robbery and shooting that occurred at Roosevelt Field Mall in East Garden City on Tuesday afternoon that sent hundreds of holiday shoppers running in fear for their lives.
At about 12:55 p.m. police received a call for shots fired in front of Tourneau, a luxury watch dealer. Oliver Lee, 21, of Queens, had entered and proceeded to the Rolex section, police said, where he scuffled with a member of store security, police said. Lee was charged with robbery, assault and criminal use of a firearm.
“He was struggling with the store security,” Nassau Acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter told reporters during a press conference at the mall Tuesday afternoon.
His gun went off during the confrontation, police said, and a 67-year-old mall employee was shot in the shoulder. He is in serious but stable condition at a local hospital.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the innocent mall employee,” said Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano at the press conference.
The shooting triggered hysteria among hundreds of holiday shoppers, eyewitnesses tell the Press, with many fleeing the scene and some taking refuge in nearby stores and shops.
Mark Smith, a 47-year-old from Roslyn, had been shopping in Bose electronics when he “heard a pop” and saw about 500 people running by.
Instead of sprinting for the nearest exit, he headed to the back of the store, where Bose employees brought him and several other patrons to its back office, locking both that door and the store’s main entrance.
Smith says those holed up alongside him remained quiet, with many texting their loved ones before service was interrupted. That’s when store employees then let them use office phones to make outbound calls.
“I just ran,” says Macy’s employee Ava Doshi, who describes the ensuing scene as a stampede. “People were just running. It was chaos.”
Oskan Gunes, who was working at the Talk N’ Fix kiosk near Starbucks on the main floor, says he heard three shots and witnessed “hundreds” of terrified shoppers racing toward JC Penny before turning right back around back toward the direction of Macy’s.
“People started running so fast–they actually started running toward the action!” the 19-year-old from Babylon says.
There was a heavy police presence and eerie silence throughout the mall following the shooting, with officers in tactical gear and police dogs patrolling its floors and many businesses closed. By 3 p.m., many had reopened though large drapes were positioned in front of both walkways leading to Macy’s, blocking access.
Never at any time was there an active shooter situation, authorities said, although Nassau police did respond as if there had been. Krumpter said police maintain a continued presence in the mall throughout the holiday shopping season. The police department has in the past also conducted drills with mall security in preparation of an active shooter situation, he added.
Outside, the Stewart Avenue and Zeckendorf Boulevard entrances to the mall were closed while investigators were on the scene, but also reopened.
A similar scene unfolded two years ago on Christmas Eve at the mall when shoppers fled en masse believing they’d heard shots fired. In that incident, a shoplifter resisting arrest had knocked over a display case, creating a loud crash mistaken as gunfire.