Dozens of people made frantic calls to 911 to report a shooting over the weekend at a suburban Salt Lake City mall that caused hundreds of panicked shoppers to flee the building or take shelter in closets, bathrooms and back rooms.
“Everyone is running out of the mall,” said one caller. “Oh my God, oh my God.”
Another who said he was calling using the phone of a woman who was shot in the leg exclaimed amid heavy breathing: “There’s been a shooting… Two people got shot.”
He then stayed on the phone for several minutes providing information about the wounds and the condition of the victims while also passing along instructions from the dispatcher to others who were helping the victims to try to stop the bleeding, according to audio recordings provided to The Associated Press on Tuesday by authorities.
“Do not remove the tourniquet, let the paramedics handle it,” the dispatcher said. “If it keeps bleeding, they are probably not pressing hard enough. Tell them to remember to keep firm, steady pressure on the wounds.”
It was one of about 30 calls to 911 about the shooting Sunday just outside the Fashion Place mall in Murray, Utah, south of Salt Lake City, which authorities say started as an argument between rival gang members inside the mall and later erupted in gunfire outside.
A woman who was shot was treated and released while a man who was wounded remains hospitalized in critical condition. Both were members of the rival gangs, police say.
Police arrested two men in the incident and more arrests could be coming. No bystanders were hit or injured. The popular mall reopened on Monday.
The calls illustrate confusion and panic among shoppers, most of whom weren’t sure what was happening or what to do. The calls also offer a window into how dispatchers provided sometimes mixed instructions about whether to flee the mall or hunker down.
A woman hiding in a closet in the Dillard’s department store, one of the closest stores to the shooting, reported hearing five to six shots. At one point, the dispatcher told her to get out of the building and gave her detailed instructions.
“Help others escape if possible. Take an evacuation path that is away from the suspects, OK,” the dispatcher said. “Do not attempt to help wounded people, OK. Do not rush toward officers, keep your hands visible at all times and follow all of your commands, OK.”
As the woman kept talking about customers wandering the store, the dispatcher repeated his command, more firmly: “Like I said, get out of the building area, even if others won’t follow.”
After the woman told the dispatcher she didn’t know where the suspects were, he then told her to take cover with those around her and lock the door.
Another woman in a different Dillard’s closet with five others also received conflicting information from a different dispatcher, who first told her to escape and later said to lock the door and stay where she was after the woman told him that people in the mall were telling them to stay put.
“I want you to sit or lie on the floor next to the wall with the door and be as quiet as possible,” the male dispatcher said. “Make sure people there silence the ringer and vibration mode on your cellphones and do not open the door for anyone.”
Then the dispatcher offered one final command: “If you are found and unable to get away, be aggressive and prepared to fight for your life.”
A Dillard’s employee asked the dispatcher if she should evacuate the store, to which the female dispatcher responded, “The best advice we can give you without knowing exactly what is going on is do whatever you need to do to make yourself feel safe.”
Several callers reported seeing several men sprinting across the parking lot and jumping over cinder block walls as they ran away. Dispatchers peppered the callers with questions about what they were wearing, what they looked like and if they had weapons.
A woman crying hysterically said between sobs: “There are gunshots in the mall. People are running everywhere.”