Gunfire erupted out of a fight between two groups of people at the South Shore Plaza in Braintree, Massachusetts, Friday afternoon, sending a 15-year-old girl to the hospital and causing a manhunt in the area that ended with two people in custody, police said.
Braintree police said two men, ages 20 and 21, fled the mall on foot but were taken into custody a short distance away after an extensive search involving police dogs. The neighborhoods around the plaza had been urged to shelter in place and report any suspicious activity to police while officers were seen walking through backyards with guns drawn.
Police said late Friday night they are still working to confirm the suspects' identities and to determine the specific charges each suspect will face.
The girl hurt in the shooting was taken to a local hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, police said. She was not a part of either group involved in the fight, according to police.
While officers had swarmed the mall after the initial 4:43 p.m. call of shots fired, police eventually said they believed it was a targeted incident of violence, not a random act or an "active shooter" incident.
A preliminary investigation revealed that a fight broke out between two groups of people that may know each other, which escalated into a shooting, police said in a news conference Friday evening.
Police said they found six shell casings inside the plaza and that the two suspects taken into custody had been shooting at each other. About six to seven people were fighting in two groups, police said, and they had started to walk away before reengaging and ultimately shooting at each other.
Stores at the mall were placed on lockdown, with shoppers slowly and carefully escorted out of the mall by police. Witnesses described chaos and confusion at the mall after the shots rang out.
The lockdown was lifted after over two hours. However, late Friday night police said there were a number of stores that were still secure and authorities were clearing each one, notifying people inside it was safe to leave.
As authorities attempt to reunite shoppers with their families, MBTA buses were sent to pick people up at the Mary E. Flaherty Elementary School gate, at the edge of the plaza parking lot, police said.
A woman who was working inside Nordstrom's at the time of the incident said she saw a large fight. She went to grab her phone to call police, when she heard the shooting, she said. The mall employee ran to the parking lot and was still visibly shaken when speaking to NBC10 Boston outside the mall.
"I just saw everything happen. I saw the guy shoot the gun. I don't remember what he looks like. I kind of like blacked out for a minute," she said. "I just saw them all fist fighting and screaming and then I heard shots and I just took cover and closed all the doors as soon as possible."
Sharon Lee was shopping at Macy's when the shooting happened. She told NBC10 Boston she ducked inside a dressing room when a young girl came running through saying a man had a gun. After about eight minutes, the woman said, she escaped through a side door, where police met her and told her to run.
"I never experienced anything like this in my entire life," she said. "It was the scariest thing I have ever seen in my entire life."
Lee was one of many shoppers who described a harrowing scene Friday inside the South Shore Plaza.
“I was in Macy’s and there was a young girl came running and she said you have to run, there’s a guy in here with a gun,” Lee said. “And then a young guy came through behind her and said I’m telling everybody to leave. You gotta get out of the store, get out of the store.”
Lee said everyone started panicking.
“People were falling,” she said. “They were jammed at the door, so I ran in a dressing room.”
Some shoppers heard the gunfire, and then people were just running all over the place.
“You heard loud bangs,” said shopper Krystal Mavrides. “And then it just sounded like right after that a herd of people, a herd of animals, you could hear the vibrations.”
Stores quickly barricaded customers in back rooms amid the chaos.
“We locked the store down,” said Banana Republic employee Jared Martin. “Got everyone in the back and then we heard over the announcements that the mall say that the mall was on lockdown.
Added Mavrides, “I went to American Eagle. I was in the dressing room. The woman opened up the curtain and told me to throw whatever on and to rush into the storage room.”
As shoppers hid inside stores, police made their way through the mall with guns drawn as they looked for whoever was responsible for the shooting.
Braintree police are asking anyone with video of the incident to assist their investigation by sending it to firstname.lastname@example.org
Police said they are hoping to identify everyone involved in the fight that led up to the shooting.
The shooting comes at the start of the July Fourth holiday weekend, when many stores offer sales. And malls in Massachusetts were only able to reopen last month, after being closed like many other businesses due to the coronavirus pandemic.
South Shore Plaza was the scene of another shooting three years ago. In that incident, in July 2017, the Braintree mall was also put on lockdown and evacuated. Authorities said at the time that incident appeared to be related to gang activity, with two gang members happening to cross paths inside of Macy's.