Mayfair Mall closed down early on Sunday afternoon as New Year's weekend shoppers were told to leave after witnesses reported seeing groups of unruly young people shouting and running in the Wauwatosa shopping center.
There also were unsubstantiated reports of gunfire.
Elsa Mercado was trying on clothes in a fitting room at Ann Taylor Loft when she heard loud noises. Her sister was at another store, and when Mercado tried to leave to check on her, she discovered she was locked in as some of the stores brought down their security gates.
"Someone was pounding on our door and saying, 'Please let me in. There's gunfire.' We unlocked the door and let him in. He was very frightened, he was very pale," said Mercado, who used her cell phone to call 911.
Mercado said the 911 dispatcher asked her location.
"They wanted to know where I was; it seemed like they had gotten a lot of calls throughout the mall," said Mercado, who saw a group of rowdy young people she estimated to number around 100. "It was happening throughout the entire mall. It was not isolated to one part of the mall."
A Mayfair Mall official said in an e-mailed statement late Sunday that the behavior of a group of young people was isolated and there were no injuries.
"What occurred this afternoon appears to be a group of youth intent on disrupting the shopping experience at Mayfair. The safety and security of our visitors are always our top priority. This behavior is isolated and we will not condone it," Mayfair Senior General Manager Steve Smith said in the statement.
"To assist police earlier in identifying and apprehending suspects, we made the decision to close the mall shortly before our regular closing time," Smith said. "We anticipate there will be consequences as a result of what happened today."
A Macy's cosmetics counter employee said she and her co-workers were told that guns were fired outside the mall, though she did not hear any shots.
She said as they started to close their registers, another announcement came over the loudspeaker that there was an emergency outside the mall and that customers should stay inside Macy's.
From inside Macy's, the employee saw security officers rush to the mall entrance after seeing a group of teenagers causing a ruckus right outside Macy's doors in the mall. She saw the youths run outside the mall entrance.
"The security staff were slightly frantic and were running back and forth between the Macy's entrances," she said in an e-mail. "Some managers at Macy's were running around, and we soon heard an announcement that the store was closing early and that customers should make their final purchases."
She eventually left with other Macy's employees.
Several Wauwatosa police squad cars were sent to the mall. Police at the scene said they were not allowed to speak to the media and a police dispatcher refused to provide any details. The dispatcher said no information would be released until Monday.
Mayfair Mall security officers referred the Journal Sentinel to Wauwatosa police, and Wauwatosa Mayor Jill Didier did not return phone calls.
Sisters-in-law Kathy and Debbie Bellini were shopping when they heard at least one shot outside the mall.
"It kind of scared me," said Kathy Bellini as she stood at a bus stop at the north end of the mall with Abercrombie & Fitch shopping bags.
Rubina Shafi was shopping at Boston Store with her mother, and while she was in a dressing room, a group of teens became unruly.
When Shafi, who was visiting from New York, tried to leave the mall through the Boston Store doors, she discovered she was locked in.
Shafi said a Boston Store clerk told her that the incident occurred after a girl was accused of retail theft and the fracas spilled over into Boston Store.
"Her friends followed her and the security guard into the store, screaming, barking, yelling, and knocking over racks and displays. We were invited to stay and continue shopping," Shafi said in an e-mail. "But we decided to leave through the exit where police guards surrounded the building. The salespeople who stuck around were immensely professional and comforting as well."
Laura Hughes was in the Barnes & Noble bookshop when she heard screaming and the sound of a large group of people running. She walked out the second floor of the bookseller and "saw large sums of teenagers running towards Boston Store and going down the escalators to the first level. Mall security had been chasing some of the kids, followed by police officers, who were literally herding the kids downstairs."
People eating in the food court noticed lights dimming and going out before seeing security officers walking around.
Another shopper said she saw a group of young people flow out of the food court area on the mall's second floor and saw a security officer blow his whistle but no one reacted because the noise from the kids was much louder than the whistle. She said the kids were mostly young girls.
About 10 minutes later, the shopper said security officers announced the mall was closing and no one could go into the center area of the mall. There was a lot of confusion and the escalators were shut down.
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