Around 1 pm Tuesday, shots were fired at the Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City, New York. The mall, located on Long Island, was crowded with holiday shoppers preparing for Christmas, just three days away.
I was one of those shoppers.
When I rounded the corner to head into the mall, the entrance was so backed up, it took at least 15 minutes to finally make the left-hand turn, at which point I found myself the subject of another waiting game to find a "garden spot" parking space against the odds.
Frustrated, I found an end-of-lane spot just outside of the Bloomingdale's department store doors. I went inside to find the last-minute gifts I'd been searching for, for each of my family members here in Long Island.
Since moving to California in September, it has not only been an overwhelming change of pace and lifestyle (which I've come to adore), but also a less-than-welcome change in the amount of time I get to spend with my family.
I went from seeing them weekly, or bi-weekly, to once every few months (thus far, at least, thanks to the holiday season). It's been a trying test of my emotions to conform to a life outside of the bubble I knew on the East Coast, with my family just an hour away from me in New York City.
Christmas is important to me because of them. It's a reminder every year to cherish the blessings I've been given, namely my family's good health and happiness, and my own good fortune.
I value Christmas, despite being a jaded adult, because it's a chance to show my family how much they mean to me. And that's why I was there, at the Roosevelt Field Mall, looking for a way to materialize the love in my heart and put it in a box for Christmas day.
The mall was nearly buried in people for a Tuesday afternoon. I was wrong, I thought to myself, to expect less of a crowd just days before the big day and during work hours, nonetheless. I somehow thought I would get in and get out before I got lost in the deluge of shoppers, not even tempted by deals and steals.
I quickly found what I was looking for in the department store, and with time to spare, decided to grab a bite to eat.
Meandering through the mall, I took note of couples holding hands, mothers with teenage daughters and families with children in strollers, men on solo missions and elderly couples slowly moving about.
I eventually opted against the food altogether and made my way back to the department store in which I entered, where I inevitably started questioning some of my purchases.
I paused for a moment to have a look in the beauty department and just as a woman asked me if I needed help with something, I heard a nerve-racking sound from across the room.
"Someone must have really knocked something over," I thought until I looked to my left and saw a crowd of people in obvious panic heading towards me. The number of pedestrians hitting the ground running was so significant, I could feel the vibrations beneath my stationary feet.
In what felt like a split second, I reacted to the scared expressions on their faces and began running with them. "What's happening? Can you tell me what's happening?" I asked a boy beside me several times before he finally responded. "There's a shooter." And with that, he confirmed the worst-case scenario.
I followed the people in front of me, mind foggy with shock, not knowing if I was headed in the right direction or not. "Run!" people were shouting, as store merchandise fell to the floor amid the stampede.
Finally, in front of me were the doors leading to the parking lot where my car sat. Two small escalators leading to the doors -- one up, one down -- were the only way out.
"You're going the wrong way!" someone shouted to a friend. I heard one woman say, "He's coming!" I had no idea what was happening, but I considered if I'd stand out as a target wearing all white, and I feared looking behind me.
A woman asked, "What's going on?" to which I responded, "You need to leave the mall." That was all I knew in this moment of panic.
Two women lifted a stroller to get it up the escalator among the stampede of people. It was too crowded, and I chose to climb the opposing side of the down escalator. A woman fell in front of me, and ashamed, I climbed over her, too scared to help her up out of fear for myself.
I ran through the doors to see hundreds of people in distress and cars honking to make their way out of the parking lot. I found my way to my car, where I hid behind the passenger door while I scrambled for my keys. I got in and cried.
I drove myself home and cried the whole way.
The shooter entered the Roosevelt Field Mall with a gun, intending to rob the Tourneau watch store, just days before Christmas.
He flashed the gun near a display of high-end Rolex pieces, Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano told the NY Daily News, at which time a security guard, a retired NYPD detective, stepped in and grabbed the gun.
The gun fired during the security guard's struggle with the shooter, hitting one worker "clear across the corridor," according to off-duty NYPD Inspector Kenneth Lehr.
Lehr happened to be in the mall doing some holiday shopping when the incident occurred just feet away, and he stepped in to apprehend the shooter. Still unidentified, the shooter has since been taken into custody.
The wounded employee, shot in the shoulder, was taken to the hospital where he is in stable condition, according to Mangano.
People reacted to the devastating incident on Twitter:
All police units trying to reach Roosevelt Field Mall. We need better evacuation methods & emergency routes @nytimespic.twitter.com/bMzApsjunl — Goldnkash (@Goldnkash) December 22, 2015
Shit. My friend was at the Roosevelt field mall today when that shooter was there. Thank god she's alright. Scary — KrisDabs Porzingis (@MJK_NY31) December 22, 2015
Dude tried to rob a jewelry store at Roosevelt Field Mall in broad daylight 3 days before Christmas. Not exactly Oceans 11 type planning. — Gordon Damer (@gordondamer) December 22, 2015
We can be thankful today's incident did not escalate any further, and there were no casualties as a result of one person's malicious act.
We have been conditioned to fear for our lives while traveling across the country to visit family, heading to the movies to see the latest blockbuster, sending our children off to another day of school and during routine trips to the local mall.
The question of violence today has become not when will it end, but will it end at all?