This story takes place in North Carolina in mid July 2018. I started dating my boyfriend that April and we hit it off pretty fast. Unfortunately, we lived 2 hours apart at the time so we only saw each other on weekends. So for one week in July, he took off work for me to go up there and spend a week at his place. I have family who live in his area, so it’s not like I was unfamiliar with the city, but I had only really been there to relatives houses, not really exploring the city. I live in coastal North Carolina (where hurricane Florence hit badly) and since my town is a beach town, we don’t have much to offer aside from the beach, movie theater, and a small 1 story mall that’s on it’s way to closing down because stores come and go like seasons.
My boyfriend, however, lives in a metropolitan city with major universities, world renowned hospitals, several malls, etc. so my week there was very eventful and very fun. On my last full day there, we decided to go to the smaller local mall after going to the huge famous one the day before. This mall has a FYE, which my inner nerd loves, so despite being so small, I was excited. Our plan was to visit the pet store in the mall to see the cats, then walk around killing time before going to a movie later.
We were having a good time and headed towards the food court to use the bathrooms before leaving. The way the mall is designed, there are about four steps you must walk up to enter the food court. Like a platform kind of thing, there is also a wheelchair ramp. We had just entered the food court but were still standing on the steps when this awful alarm started going off. I had no idea what it was until an announcement came on the intercom. The man on the intercom said, “attention! Attention! There is an active firearm in the building! Please exit immediately through the closest exit!” When I heard that, my stomach dropped. You hear about these things (way too much) in America but you never think it will happen to you.
I gripped my boyfriend’s hand tighter and he looked at me confused and asked why I was squeezing his hand so hard. I gave him that “are you stupid” look and said, “there’s a shooter in the building!!” During this time, the announcement kept replaying so he took another listen. It turns out he thought they said “fire ALARM” not “firearm”! At that moment, we raced to the food court doors pushing our way through dozens of people and finally got out and made it back to his car. When we got in the parking lot, we saw all the animals from the pet store had been put in cages or on leashes and taken outside of the building. It was chaos.
I don’t think there were any gunshots or injuries, but just knowing that somebody showed up to the smaller suburban mall with a gun, ready to aim fire, is terrifying. Now every time my boyfriend and I go to that mall, there is always a feeling of being watched or unsafe. I also noticed they barely have any mall cops at all, so that’s even weirder.