Guilderland Police Chief Carol Lawlor said authorities are searching for a suspect in connection with Saturday afternoon’s shooting at Crossgates mall in Albany.
“We have no suspect at this time, we have no victim at this time,” Lawlor said at a news conference Saturday night.
Police received the call for shots fired at Crossgates around 2:20 p.m. Lawlor confirmed that a gun was used in the incident but said police are trying to determine how many shots were fired.
The incident occurred in front of the Apple store at the mall. Police were still doing sweeps inside the mall as of 9:15 p.m. Lawlor said at that time that approximately 10 percent of the mall remained to be checked, and that shoppers and mall employees were still inside.
They do not have a photo of the suspect but are reviewing security camera footage.
Lawlor called on the public to contact the Guilderland Police Department with any footage they may have of the incident.
“There were a lot of people in this mall and a lot of people means a lot of cameras, so if anyone has any pictures, even if they don’t think we would be interested in them, let us make that decision and get the pics to us,” she said. “Those pictures from people’s cameras can give us more info than anything we’re doing right now.
“It’s a huge mall, that’s why we needed so many people here, that’s why we have such a huge police presence,” said Lawlor. “What you’re seeing [outside] is the tip of the iceberg compared to what’s in the mall.”
At least nine police agencies responded to the scene, including police departments from Guilderland, Albany, Troy and Colonie, as well as the state police, Department of Environmental Conservation police, the Albany and Rensselaer county sheriff’s offices and police from the University at Albany.
A state police helicopter flew over Crossgates Mall for much of the afternoon and into the evening. An Albany Fire Department truck and at least one ambulance company also responded to the scene. Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple said earlier in the day that he did not believe there were any injuries in connection with the shooting.
Dozens of officers, many with assault weapons, could be seen milling around the mall and every entrance to the mall was blocked off. Around 3:30 p.m., a long line of customers and mall employees were evacuated out of the Best Buy entrance.
People could be seen streaming out of the mall around 3 p.m. and walking around the ring roads surrounding the mall.
At one point officers with assault rifles rushed to the mall entrance by Lord & Taylors and Best Buy, and an officer could be heard saying, “The caller is in the closet.” The store alarm inside Lord & Taylors could be heard.
Witnesses told The Daily Gazette they heard two to three shots ring out, and then utter pandemonium.
A Sbarro’s employee who identified himself as “Mr. Alfred” said he heard two shots and believes the shooting was gang-related.
“There were a few of them that had on gray shirts, the other dude had on a red shirt,” said Alfred. “There were like four to five of them, once they turned the corner past Sbarro’s, you just heard it, then everybody started running.”
Lawlor said she has no information about a motive for the shooting or any connection to gang activity.
A shopper named Valerie English who was in the mall at the time of the shooting said she saw a distraught woman on the ground who told English her brother was involved in the shooting.
“I thought she was having a seizure, and she said her brother was part of a gang, and there was another gang and they happened to meet up in the mall, and they commenced to shoot at each other,” said English, who was trying to help the girl. “She was under the assumption that it was her brother who was getting shot at … she was hysterical and off the wall.”
John Barrella, a manager at the Ruby Tuesday’s in Crossgates, said he heard what he later realized were two shots and saw people stream past the windows of the restaurant.
“It was like a river of people with panic on their faces,” said Barrella, who initially thought the commotion was due to a fire drill. “You could see on their faces it wasn’t a fire alarm.”
An H&M employee who did not give her name said she heard the shots, “then everyone started running and we had to bring everyone back into the break room.”
The police later found and evacuated them, she said.
Lawlor said police are interviewing “hundreds of people” inside the mall.
Throughout the afternoon shoppers and mall employees were directed to evacuate to the parking lots. Many employees waited hours to re-enter the mall and retrieve their belongings. CDTA provided at least 10 buses for those who were waiting at the scene to remain warm, Lawlor said.
Joseph Castaldo, director of shopping center management at Pyramid Management Group, which owns Crossgates, commended first responders for their professionalism. He said management at the mall is hopeful the mall will be open by 11 a.m. today.
Castaldo said shoppers who left belongings in the common areas during the evacuation can coordinate with Pyramid Management Group tomorrow to their property back. Those who left belongings in individual stores must coordinate tomorrow with those stores on retrieving their things.
Lawlor said police initially had two people in custody who fit the description of those who were involved in the shooting but had questioned and released them. Police are currently only looking for one suspect, she said. Lawlor added that there will be an added police presence at the mall on Sunday. Police do not feel the public is in any danger but Lawlor encouraged people to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity to police.