On one of the busiest shopping days of the year, a verbal altercation between two groups of young men quickly escalated to gunfire inside the Mall of America on Friday night, turning the sprawling retail and entertainment complex in Bloomington, Minn., into a chaotic crime scene where a 19-year-old lay dead, the authorities said.
The shooting came at a precarious moment for the mall, the nation’s largest, which has been considering new safety measures, including the installation of metal detectors, at a time of rising concern over gun violence.
The chief of the Bloomington Police Department, Booker Hodges, said he could not recall another fatal shooting at the immense mall, which welcomes millions of visitors every year with its hundreds of stores and attractions like the indoor theme park Nickelodeon Universe and the Sea Life Aquarium.
“We had 16 cops in the mall, and they still decide to do this,” Chief Hodges said. “I’m at a loss.”
The shooting occurred shortly before 8 p.m. inside a Nordstrom store when the two groups — between five and nine people — got into a verbal dispute that in about 30 seconds turned deadly as shots rang out, causing panicked shoppers to flee, Chief Hodges said.
One bullet grazed a bystander’s jacket, he added.
The victim was not immediately identified on Friday night, and the authorities were still searching for the suspects, Chief Hodges said.
“This is absolutely ridiculous,” he said. “I mean, I can’t even think of another word. This is just flat-out stupid.”
He added that he felt for the victim’s family. “I mean, this is before Christmas, and now they’re having to bury one of their loved ones,” Chief Hodges said.
The Mall of America, which went on lockdown after the shooting and then closed for the evening, bans guns on its premises.
Chief Hodges appeared exasperated on Friday when asked how to prevent another violent episode inside one of the state’s most popular destinations.
“If someone’s going to have blatant disrespect for humanity, I don’t know what we can do to stop some of these people,” he said, noting that he had been shopping at the mall earlier in the day with his family.
The Mall of America, a leviathan among enclosed shopping centers, is about 10 miles south of downtown Minneapolis. It opened in 1992 with 330 stores and more than 10,000 people employed. According to the mall, more than 40 million people visit from around the world each year.
In addition to some 500 retail stores, the mall contains 19 full-service restaurants.
Another shooting occurred inside the mall in August, according to the authorities, also causing chaos as shoppers ran and hid, a local TV station, KARE 11, reported. That time, there were no injuries.
On Friday, Chief Hodges appeared incredulous at the thought of someone believing they could “get away” with fatally shooting someone.
“Make no mistake, you are going to get arrested, and we are going to lock you up,” he said. “It’s just a matter of when that’s going to happen.”