By ADRIANA GOMEZ LICON
MIAMI (AP) — A shooting at a South Florida shopping mall that was sparked by a fight between two groups of people sent panicked shoppers fleeing and left three persons injured Saturday afternoon, police and witnesses said.
Live aerial television news footage showed people scattering outside the Aventura Mall after the initial reports of gunfire. Law enforcement vehicles could be seen converging at the complex and blocking roads.
Aventura Police said two groups of people had begun fighting before it escalated to gunfire.
One individual in one of the groups produced a gun, and an individual in the other group also drew a gun and fired that weapon, said an Aventura police spokesman, Michael Bentolila, in briefing reporters on live television.
Police said the three wounded were taken to hospitals but their injuries were not life-threatening.
Aventura Police later tweeted that authorities had “several suspects” in custody who were being questioned by detectives. Police had no immediate report on what touched off the incident and did not immediately release the identities of those in custody or injured.
After the shooting, mall patrons and employees were led out of the shopping complex and officials announced the mall would not reopen until Sunday.
Oscar Alvarado, a worker at the mall, said the complex was bustling with a strong Mother’s Day weekend crowd when the chaos erupted. He said it wasn’t the first shooting at the mall that he’s experienced.
“This time I do have to say I could hear the screams from so far away. I could clearly hear the people were really, really worried and concerned,” he said. “They were yelling `shooter, shooter.’ ”
Alvarado recorded video of two police officers moving down the mall walkway after the shooting with their guns drawn. And he described waiting for about an hour with coworkers before they could evacuate.
“There was a lot of commotion outside, a lot of people crying and stressed,” he said of the scene outdoors.
Videos shared on social media community forums show officers who appeared to be taking a man in custody outside the mall. Other footage showed shoppers running out of stores or seeking cover.
Luke Lockart, 22, said he was in Armani Exchange, checking out, when he heard screaming and things falling over because people were running into the store and knocking over mannequins.
“They were trying to hide anywhere they could because no one knew what was going on,” said Lockart, who works in real estate.
The staff at the store eventually locked the doors and asked people to go into a back room, he said. Police and first responders were running through a nearby hallway within minutes. “They were on top of it,” Lockart said.
He followed updates on social media, saying “it was a very uneasy feeling” as he spent more than an hour in the store before police escorted everyone out.
Aventura City Manager Ron Wasson told The Miami Herald that authorities were sweeping the complex afterward in case someone dropped a firearm.
“They just want to make sure if someone might have dumped a weapon, we don’t miss it,” he told the newspaper.
Aventura Mall bills itself on its online site as a premier shopping destination in the Miami area and South Florida.
In May 2020, two people were wounded and taken to a hospital after an argument led to a shooting inside the same mall. Police said that shooting also followed an argument.
Associated Press writer Thalia Beaty in New York contributed to this report.