Your (Not-So-Friendly) Neighborhood Mall

A recent shooting at a Florida shopping mall underscored why it is that situational awareness is something all of us should practice constantly — not just when we are in situations that have an element of danger associated with them.

Naturally, when walking alone down a dark street or in a parking garage, one should be especially observant. But sometimes, bad things happen in places where we least expect ­— nightclubs, hospitals, even churches.

A couple of recent incidents reminded me why it is that, in my carry classes, I often specifically mention shopping malls, including their parking lots, as places to be on elevated alert. One of the reasons is that in an environment we think of as a “nice” place, it is too easy to become complacent, and even trained individuals can sometimes, often without even realizing it, let their guards down.

But violence — whether from gangs, muggers or even terrorists — can happen anywhere. Which it did, a couple of weeks ago, this time at the upscale Shops at Merrick Park in relatively affluent Coral Gables. According to the Miami Herald:

“Marios Hortis, 42, was one of two people shot by 33-year-old Abeku Wilson, who had been let go as a trainer Saturday at the Equinox gym in Coral Gables ‘due to workplace violence and was escorted off the premises.’ Investigators say Wilson returned to the gym with a handgun and fired multiple shots at Hortis and 35-year-old Janine Ackerman, the facility’s general manager, before fatally shooting himself. Ackerman was pronounced dead Saturday.”

Not surprisingly (at least to me) was that police records show that the shooter had previously had numerous run-ins with law enforcement, including one four years ago. Wilson was arrested after fleeing the scene of an accident, and was apprehended with a gun.

Then there was the case in San Antonio, just this past January, where a robbery at the Rolling Oaks Mall went very, very badly. As reported by Fox 29 News:

“Investigators say two men attempted to rob a Kay Jewelers store in the mall, which is located northeast of downtown San Antonio. As the suspects tried to get away, they ran into two bystanders. McManus said one of the men who tried to intervene was shot and killed. The other Good Samaritan, who had a concealed carry permit, shot one of the suspects.”

Investigators identified the man who died as 42-year-old retired Marine Jonathan Murphy. Sadly, he and his wife were at the jewelry store getting their wedding rings cleaned, according to his stepdaughter’s boyfriend.

The other suspect managed to escape the mall, firing at bystanders as he went. Police said later Sunday that he was eventually arrested.

The Texas shooting was of particular interest to me, because it featured not one but two “Good Samaritans” but only one of whom survived — the one who was legally armed. This is precisely why I carry virtually every waking moment, wherever and whenever it is legal for me to do so.

But while the Florida and the Texas cases differ quite a bit in details, both of these incidents illustrate how easy it is for things to happen where we least expect it, with very unpredictable results. What we can also learn from such incidents is that being acutely aware of our surroundings is almost as important as being armed in the first place.

Be smart. Be alert. Everywhere.