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‘Eternally grateful’: How Boise mall employees helped keep others safe during shooting

·6 min read

When gunshots rang out in Boise Towne Square on Monday afternoon, people inside had to react immediately and search for safety.

Some people exited the mall. Some simply ran away from the sound of gunshots. Others said they had no quick plan.

But a lot of mall employees, aware of safety procedures to follow during a shooting, helped usher people into their stores before locking the front entrance gates and hiding in storage rooms, dressing rooms and bathrooms.

“She says, ‘OK, everybody, just relax. Nobody can get to us,’” mall walker Kat Steel said of a Hot Topic store manager. “... She said you guys are all safe, we just have to sit this out here. We know how it works.”

Boise Mayor Lauren McLean said at a Wednesday news conference before the mall reopened that she spoke with many employees who shared their stories of responding to the chaos.

“They were hearing bullets, they were close to what was happening,” McLean said. “I know that it’s tough to come back today.”

Two people, Roberto Padilla Arguelles and Jo Acker, were killed in the shooting, and four more were injured, according to the Boise Police Department. The shooter, identified by police and the Ada County Coroner’s Office as Jacob Bergquist, died in a hospital on Tuesday after exchanging gunfire with police outside the mall.

Boise Police Chief Ryan Lee commended the employees and customers who were at the mall when the shooting happened.

“When we look at this event, those at the mall responded admirably and did quickly what we have learned is best practice,” Lee said Tuesday. “They quickly ushered those patrons that were in their locations to back rooms. They closed and sheltered and secured, so they became inaccessible and minimized the risk of being victims.”

‘Having her do that was a life saver’

Steel said she was the mall to get some exercise. She said she’s still cognizant of COVID-19, so she prefers the less-crowded second level.

Steel had just walked past Macy’s and was headed toward the food court when she first heard a loud bang. She thought maybe something fell onto the floor or a light bulb popped.

Then, “boom, boom, boom, boom, boom” — and she knew it was a gun, Steel said by phone. Everyone around her started running. The noise came from behind, so she rushed away from the direction of Macy’s, she said.

As she started running, she saw an employee at Hot Topic holding the metal security gate about halfway up, waving people into the store.

“Get in here. Quick, quick,” Steel recalled the store manager saying.

The manager waved people in until that mall area was empty, Steel said, and then locked the gate.

“She could have run to her gate and just slammed it down and locked it and went back to that room,” Steel said. “But she didn’t. She stayed there and she held it open. … For that I will be eternally grateful.”

With the entrance to the front of the store locked, Steel estimated that she hid with about 20 others, including a few employees, for nearly two hours in Hot Topic’s storage room. While some in the group were shaky and teary, Steel said, the employees helped calm people.

The manager called 911 multiple times, Steel said, and informed police of where they were. Employees told people in the group to mute their phones and stay quiet.

Over time, people became friendly while trying to avoid any panic, Steel said. She recalled the manager describing her actions as standard operating procedure.

“She said, ‘I always read my S.O.P.’s,’” Steel recalled. “I always know what we’re supposed to do.’”

If not for hiding in Hot Topic, Steel said she isn’t sure where she would have gone. In those chaotic moments, she didn’t have a plan.

But the store manager did.

“Having her do that was a life saver,” Steel said.

‘What-if scenario’ actually happens at mall

At 1:49 p.m. Monday, Kari Jenkins checked out at the Attic Salt store. She knowsthe exact time because it was printed on her receipt.

Jenkins heard the gunshots as she was walking down a mall hallway. At the same time, Mark Freckleton began running through the protocol for an active shooter.

Freckleton owns The Reveal, a costume store. He has 30 years of law enforcement experience, including 17 at the Idaho Department of Juvenile Corrections, he said by phone. He was in charge of safety and security.

Freckleton said he also was a police officer and spent time in the military, and he helped write and teach procedures for active-shooter training at juvenile facilities in Nampa, Lewiston and St. Anthony.

After mass shootings throughout the country, Freckleton said, he knew something like this could be a possibility.

“When we opened this store in the mall, my wife and I had already discussed what would we do and how we would do things if anything happened,” Freckleton said. “Just kind of a what-if scenario for general emergencies.”

The Reveal at the mall opened on Sept. 15. Less than six weeks later, the what-if scenario became reality.

He went toward the store’s entrance and got ready to pull down the gate. That’s when Jenkins ran into the store and sped straight to a dressing room in the back. Freckleton said he was prepared to wait for others in search of safety, but he didn’t see anyone else in the hallway. He closed the gate and walked toward Jenkins while his son, an employee at the store, locked the gate.

Unsure how Jenkins would react, Freckleton said he approached cautiously. Once they began talking, he told her of his law enforcement experience.

“He goes, ‘I have this under control. Just want to make sure you’re OK,’” Jenkins recalled in a phone interview. “That was like a sigh of relief.”

Jenkins said that after she spoke with Freckleton, she felt about 80% better, because she trusted the store was secure.

Freckleton met with his son and went to the bathroom in the back corner of the store. He stayed there because he didn’t want to be moving around, he said. After about an hour, Freckleton, his son and Jenkins left the mall safely when police arrived to clear the area.

“Training tells us that active shooters take the path of least resistance,” Freckleton said. “So typically they’re not going to try to break into doors and do stuff like that. ... Everything that we did, I felt really confident that we were safe, at least to that point.”

Idaho Statesman reporter Kyle Land contributed.

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