DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – The mass evacuation of NorthPark Center in response to reports of an active shooter on Monday, May 31, was chaotic and confusing, according to shoppers caught in the resulting panic.
Many say they ended up in a central courtyard, feeling trapped with no clear exit.READ MORE: Fourth Stimulus Check: Is Another Relief Payment Coming Soon?
A blaring fire alarm, shoppers said, was the first sign of any trouble.
“I thought at first it was a fire,” said Darcy, who was celebrating her birthday with a friend over lunch.
Leslie Vazquez, who was working at Urban Outfitters, says employees were calmly directing customers out of the store, when the mood suddenly shifted.
“We heard a scream and everyone ran toward us,” she said.
Panic swept through the mall as people began yelling that there was a shooter.
“Everybody was panicked, like so panicked. Like mass chaos. Mass chaos,” said Darcy. “And then everyone kept saying, ‘Shooter, shooter, shooter.”
Many reported hearing what sounded like gunshots.
“It might just be in my head, but I swear I heard it,” said Darcy.
Dallas Police later determined the loud booms were caused by a man repeatedly slamming a skateboard against the floor.
“There were people saying, ‘Go, Go, Go’,” said Natalia Meave.
As people raced for the doors, at least one woman tripped and fell hitting her head.
Eloisa Vazquez watched families struggling.
“There’s like people with kids and they don’t know what to do. I see people with strollers struggling to get out of there,” recalled Eloise Vazquez.
Her friend, Daana Rodriguez, spotted a mother with three kids.
“I just helped her grab one of them ‘cause she was dragging him and she had to run she was so scared,” said Rodriguez.READ MORE: Fort Hood Soldier Accused Of Smuggling Migrants Into Texas From Mexico
At least half a dozen shoppers said they were directed – at times by employees – to exits that took them into an interior courtyard.
“They had us all empty out into a courtyard which had no exit to get outside the mall,” said Ashely Holub
“Everyone was there,” said Leslie Vasquez.
“That’s when we got scared. What if the shooter was in the courtyard?” said Natalia Meave.
“If it’s a shooting we could all get shot,” Darcy remembers thinking.
David Riggal, the owner of Sheepdog Defense Group which offers active shooter response training, agrees.
“Probably not the best to send people into a large open area,” he said.
If you’re in the immediate area where the shooting is taking place, run.
Otherwise, he said, find a safe place to hunker down.
“If you can get yourself to a place where you can barricade and buy some time law enforcement some time to respond, your chances of surviving the encounter are much higher,” he said.
That was Greg Baca’s instinct. He was watching a movie with his 6-year-old daughter, when there was an announcement in the theater about an active shooter. While others ran out, he stayed.
“To me just running blindly when they don’t know where the shooter is. We just opted to stay there, he said.
They lay on the theater floor and hid under the seat for thirty minutes, saying their prayers.
“It was intense. Yea,” said.
While there’s no guarantee any single tactic will work, he’s happy to have walked out alive.
“You were brave right? I’m very proud of you.” he told his daughter.
In a statement, NorthPark Center noted there were many people sheltered in place throughout the mall, one reason police spent hours combing the mall following the scare.MORE NEWS: Man Pulled From Grapevine Lake Passes Away
It did not respond to questions about why people were guided into the courtyard or if the mall had a plan for how to respond to an active shooter.