Shortly before 5 p.m. Saturday, shoppers and workers at the Lehigh Valley Mall scrambled for cover or darted for the doors after hearing several shots fired in short succession.
“Everyone on all levels started running,” said Anjelica Williams, who works at the Cinnabon on the lower level. “It was a massive horde.”
Reports of four shots fired in the lower level of the mall brought a massive police response to the Whitehall Township shopping center around 4:57 p.m.
Three hours later, Whitehall Township Police Chief Michael Marks told reporters that the shots were fired in the lower level, beside Modell’s Sporting Goods, but that police did not find anyone shot. No arrests had been made at that time.
Police are in the process of reviewing security camera footage to try to make sense of the chaotic scene, Marks said.
The mall was evacuated before the 8 p.m. news conference, though police were still searching the building and would continue doing so into the night, Marks said.
Original reports to 911 were for an active shooter at J.C. Penney. Police arrived to find the store in lockdown, the doors also locked, according to police radio reports. Dispatchers said that the shooter was not in J.C. Penney but that four shell casings were found outside the Modell’s store.
Around 5:05 p.m., police were investigating if a shooter was inside the Hollister store, dispatchers said, and then, if a shooter was in Claire’s on the second floor.
A Whitehall Township couple told the Morning Call that their 18-year-old daughter, who works at Villa, which is five doors from Modell’s, saw a gunman open fire in the corridor.
They were at home when their daughter called in hysterics from the store’s office, where she ran after the shooting. She told her parents she was standing at Villa’s entrance, making sure shoppers were wearing masks upon entering, when she saw a man walk up and greet a young man who was waiting to go in. “Hey, yo,” he said, before firing several shots.
Screaming and chaos followed as people scurried for safety.
“I will never forget the second of silence that happened after the shots, as we processed what we heard,” said Ashley Giammona, who was with her husband on the second floor. “Then everyone started screaming. My husband slid behind a jewelry display in the middle of the mall and I army-crawled to him.”
Steve Royer, of Allentown, was walking out of J.C. Penney when he heard gunshots. “It sounded like they were right next to me,” he said. Everyone around him was racing toward the exits.
About three dozen police cars, including an armored vehicle, were on scene — from Whitehall, Allentown, State Police, and surrounding communities. Four ambulances also were on the premises.
Police apparently were going from store to store, evacuating the building. Marks said law enforcement had a difficult task making sense of the scene between the hunt for the shooter or shooters and customers hiding or fleeing inside the crowded mall.
“It’s about as chaotic as it can be,” Marks said.
Williams, the Cinnabon employee, said she and her coworkers followed the mall’s instructions to lock down, and when police arrived, they were instructed to leave. Less than an hour after the shots were fired, she was safely outside the mall.
This is the second shooting at the Lehigh Valley Mall in two years. In June 2018, rival gang members collided in a fight that started inside the mall and ended in the parking lot with gunshots and two men hospitalized. That shooting prompted a similarly massive police response.
Photo journalist Rick Kintzel contributed to this report.