On Sunday, Aug. 25, the Westfield Topanga Mall in Woodland Hills, about 17 miles from Malibu and one of the closest major shopping centers, went on lockdown after hearing threats of an active shooter. 

At 3:47 p.m., a Twitter account belonging to the Los Angeles Police Department (@LAPDHQ) tweeted about the event: “We are responding to reports of a shooting at the Topanga Mall. At this time, preliminary information is no evidence of a shooting, but officers are still on scene, and they are clearing the mall and to avoid the area.” A second tweet, sent at 4:11 p.m., confirmed that the suspects had been detained, the incident had been stabilized and there was no evidence of a shooting. At 6:28 p.m., the account confirmed there had not been a shooting and the mall was clear.

Here is my firsthand account of what it was like inside the mall.

I work at a restaurant inside Nordstrom, so minutes after hearing the threats, security closed the doors and locked everyone inside. 

I was hearing different stories about what was going on inside the mall, so I didn’t know what to believe at first. Customers were asking what was going on and we were confused as well, so we waited to hear from our lead manager to see what to do. He immediately said to remain calm and to tell customers the doors are locked because there is “something going on outside,” but to tell our customers, “We are safe inside; the doors are locked and no one can come inside.”

We didn’t know what to do, so I went on social media and started reading headlines about “threats of an active shooter reported at the Topanga Mall”—the first person I had to contact was my sister. She works at a big box store in the Westfield Village (across the street). She was experiencing something much worse. She called me as soon as I messaged her. At the time, she was running across the street to the Best Buy with a few of her co-workers; they were all crying, not knowing where to go. 

Apparently, an employee at her store said through a walkie talkie transmitted to the store’s intercom that there was an “active shooter outside” and for everyone to evacuate the store. Customers panicked and left their carts and ran outside. They all ended up running across the street toward the Topanga Mall—where, unbeknownst to them, the incident was actually taking place.

It ended up being a robbery at Neiman Marcus. Police found no evidence of a weapon; however, officers did arrest two suspects on charges of robbery. 

My sister told me they eventually had to go back to work and clean up the mess that happened. This was my first experience going on lockdown and I think Nordstrom handled it very well; however, her store could have handled the situation much better. 

I think customers need to be informed and employees need to be properly trained on what to do in this situation. 

In 2017, The Malibu Times reported The City of Malibu hosted a town hall meeting on “Mass Violence Safety,” which only around 20 Malibu residents attended. 

One speaker at the town hall, LA County Sheriff Reserve Deputy Erik Franco, shared some information that may be helpful to residents in case of a similar incident here in Malibu. Franco works in global crisis management for major companies developing game plans for active shooter incidents and gave practical tips on how to save lives during a shooting event. Franco said to be “hyper aware” and report suspicious activity, then in the event of a shooting “run, hide and [if necessary] fight an active shooter.”

Franco’s tips were to “silence cell phones during an attack so a shooter can’t find you, run from the scene empty handed so police don’t mistakenly fire during a panicked, rushed situation, know an exit route or fortify a hiding place.” As a last-ditch effort, he suggested attacking a gunman (hopefully as a group), going for vulnerable spots such as the eyes or nose.”

Franco did caution the number of shooting incidents is on the rise and in the worst case scenario, he suggested people buy and learn how to use tourniquets. 

“If you have the right tools at the right time, you can save more lives than you think,” Franco stressed at the time.

Judy Abel’s reporting contributed to this story.

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