A spate of shootings at malls across the country have highlighted what experts say is a need for vigilance amid offenders’ apparent propensity toward violence and gun use, even in bustling public places.
Nakisha Billa, a Philadelphia woman whose son was shot and killed after a fight broke out in a local mall, lamented to Fox News Digital she regretted not stopping the 21-year-old from going to the shopping center. Domonic Billa was just weeks away from his 22nd birthday on March 29, 2021, when he was gunned down in the food court of the Philadelphia Mills Mall, formerly known as the Franklin Mills Mall.
Police said at the time that two groups inside the mall began fighting when shots rang out and Domonic was struck. He suffered multiple gunshot wounds to the chest and could not be saved.
Speaking to Fox News Digital, Nakisha Billa recalled how her son had gone to the mall to buy pants for an upcoming job interview. She was working that day as a public transportation driver and knew she would pass through the mall on her route.
“I totally, I think, was just in a happy place of him taking the initiative on his own, and me having an opportunity to see him again while I’m working,” she said, when reached by phone. “I didn’t think about the mall that he was going to, and how it is often riddled with crime there. Who thinks about bad things like that when everything, your whole intention, is set out to do good and to do what is expected of someone that is trying to excel in life?”
Any concern over her son going to the mall that day “just didn’t cross my mind,” Billa said.
“I often am stuck with a heavy heart,” she continued. “I wish I would have said, ‘No. Don’t go to that mall. Maybe go somewhere else.’ So, it hurts, sitting back and thinking about that day, wondering if I could have prevented it by just saying, ‘Go to a different location to get the work pants.’”
The U.S. has seen a spate of mall shootings in parts of the country over the past several months, including at the same Philadelphia shopping center where Domonic Billa was killed.
Weeks earlier, a man was critically injured when he was struck inside the mall, police said at the time. The victim, 21, was shot in the neck around 1:30 p.m. on February 6, 2021, and was taken to a local hospital. Details of the events preceding the shooting were not released at the time.
More recently, on July 17, 2022, a 20-year-old gunman opened fire inside an Indiana mall and killed three people after waiting in a bathroom for more than an hour.
The gunman was inside a bathroom near the food court of the Greenwood Park Mall for about an hour and two minutes before he entered the dining area and fired his Sig Sauer firearm, police officials said. He had a second firearm with him and ammunition, both of which he had stored in the bathroom, and he was wearing a “waistband holster on with several magazines,” police said.
Within minutes, a legally armed “good Samaritan” named Elisjsha Dicken returned fire with a pistol and “neutralized” the suspect, Greenwood Police Department Chief Jim Ison said.
The deceased victims were identified as Pedro Pineda, 56, his wife, Rosa Mirian Rivera de Pineda, 37, and Victor Gomez, 30. Two other people were wounded.
No one was injured during a shooting at the famous Mall of America in Minnesota on August 4, even despite the chaos that ensued after three shots were fired into a Nike store within the sprawling building.
Shots rang out after two groups began fighting, Bloomington Police Chief Booker Hodges said at the time.
“They decided to demonstrate a complete lack of respect for human life,” Hodges told reporters. “They decided to fire multiple rounds into a store with people.”
Then, someone was shot at a Lafayette, Louisiana, mall on August 20. The victim and another person were fighting inside the Acadiana Mall around 2:30 p.m. local time when one of them opened fire. The victim went to a local hospital.
At least two mall shootings were reported over the course of the Labor Day weekend, one being at the Irving Mall in Irving, Texas, on Sept. 4, and the second on Sept. 5 inside Independence, Missouri’s Independence Center. Not victims were wounded in either of the incidents, according to reports.
Additionally, on Saturday, three people were shot, including one who was killed, inside the Dallas’ Big T Plaza, a small shopping mall in Central Oak Cliff, local affiliate FOX 4 reported.
Dallas Police Department Executive Assistant Chief Albert Martinez called the shooting “basically an ambush.”
“An assailant came upon three individuals inside this location. We don’t know why this happened,” Martinez said, according to the report.
The shooting happened around 1:15 p.m. local time. Police have identified the victim who died as 36-year-old Corderro Robinson, according to FOX 4. The suspect was reportedly charged with murder, though a motive was not revealed.
Joseph Sullivan, a now-retired deputy commissioner for the Philadelphia Police Department, told Fox News Digital on Monday that his own children have shopped at the Philadelphia mall where Billa was killed.
He said there is “100%” a greater public fear when it comes to visit public venues, such as shopping malls.
“Places where the problem used to be fights and disorderly crowds, now the concern is gunfire, and malls are but one example,” said Sullivan.
Sullivan, who was on the job for nearly 40 years before retiring, said he has personally had conversations with his family about how to handle such worst-case scenarios.
“There’s no way to 100% be sure that you’re safe at any public space today,” he said. “The conversation that I have had with my own children, especially my son, is just that because of the proliferation of guns, when you’re in a public space, if someone’s trying to engage you … you’re best just to walk away.”
He added: “In today’s world, things quickly escalate from a verbal argument. They even sometimes skip the physical confrontation and go right to gunshots.”
Sullivan urged people to be aware of the people and what is happening around them while in public and to stay away from people who make them uncomfortable. He said anyone who hears gunshots should get away from the area – and leave behind their personal belongings if needed – and call 911.
He added that this was the time for private security companies to increase the quality and quantity of the security officers they hire; however, he noted that they can only provide a certain level of protection.
David Katz, CEO of Global Security Group, said there was “absolutely no doubt there’s an increased fear” because of upticks in crime, but said private security officers are limited in when they can place individuals under arrest.
However, private security, he said, can make the decision to make a building, such as a mall, a “secure environment,” such as by adding metal detectors or other additional resources.
He said people “need to basically be looking out for themselves. They need to be mindful of their own security. They need to be vigilant, they need to always understand where exits and entrances are, and they need to be able to immediately perceive something that is out of the ordinary and possibly threatening and act without regard to being directed by police or the manager of a store or the mall operator.”
Former Deputy Commissioner Sullivan added that people “don’t fight fair or fist fight” – instead, they’ll “quickly escalate to a firearm.”
“The reality of the world we’re living in today is that these types of things can happen anywhere, anytime,” he said. “It’s not something where you want to blame the victim – people are just trying to enjoy public spaces … it’s unfortunate that this type of risk does exist.”