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Alabama’s Thanksgiving Tragedy … Too Close to Home

I guess in some ways I feel slightly obligated (or maybe compelled in some way) to comment on the tragic events that took place in the Riverchase Galleria in Hoover, Alabama, on Thanksgiving evening. That gigantic shopping mall, open now for nearly 33 years, is about eight minutes from my parents and the home where I grew up. It’s also the place where I spent many years working — from a popular toy store for the holidays when I was 16 years old to a beloved retail shop where I worked all during college, graduation and even when starting my first “official” job.

Of course, I have a love/hate relationship with the Galleria. I loved it when I was a child and a young teenager. But it’s a mall. It’s huge. And it was always ridiculously crowded, starting around the week of Thanksgiving and continuing all through the month of December.

While a lot of things in the mall have changed, and many stores have come and gone over the last three decades, I know that location pretty well. And it was shocking and heartbreaking to learn that two individuals — an 18-year-old male and a 12-year-old female bystander — were shot and injured and that a 21-year-old man (initially thought to be the shooter) was shot and killed on Thanksgiving night after what appeared to be an argument and a physical altercation. Local media reported that the shooting happened between JCPenney and Footaction on the mall’s second floor while thousands of shoppers from around the state were getting an early start for Black Friday. Eyewitnesses stated that they heard six or seven gunshots and also observed many shoppers with their personal firearms drawn and ready. The gunfire sent frightened people racing for exits and looking for cover in store supply closets and dressing rooms during the chaotic and dreadful scene that many people captured on their smartphones and immediately started to post on social media sites.

Details are still hazy, and investigations are still underway as I write this post, so I don’t want to speculate, obscure or misstep. But I do want to reiterate one thing, something that I have mentioned many times and that the USCCA teaches in its curriculum. I want to remind everyone that the best options for a situation like this are to avoid, escape, defend. In that order. Every time. If you can steer clear of bad areas or uncomfortable situations, then that’s your guarantee to stay safe. If you happen to see or hear something brewing or you just get a bad feeling about something or someone, then that’s your chance to get away. And if you have no other choice and your life is on the line, then that’s when you may need to use lethal force for protection.

Just be sure to run all of these kinds of situations and decisions through your mind now, before you get caught unaware. Think about what you would — or could — do. Practice it. Live it! And do just like one of my former students did that very night. It was both unsettling and astounding to read her words to me the day after this terrible incident occurred so close to home.

As Deborah B. wrote, “Thanks in part to YOU, Beth, and your training (I took one of your classes last year), I listened to my gut. I was THERE last night. My hubby and I were walking … to [JCPenney] when my gut told me to turn around and get out of there. Too crowded, no exits around and just an overwhelming need to remove myself from that environment. We listened and left. An hour later, the shooting happened. We could easily have been walking back through the food court while this was happening. Thanksgiving has a bigger meaning to me today. Thank YOU for helping me be more vigilant than I would’ve been.”

I sincerely hope everyone can adopt this kind of mindset: one of preparation and preparedness and of being aware and listening to those gut feelings and insights. I also sincerely hope that this kind of madness stays far away from all of us this season and throughout the rest of the year.

Stay safe. And be well armed.

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