Thursday, March 23, 2023

Garden State Plaza Mall on lockdown after random shots are fired

Ironically, we didn’t even want to go that night.  Our flight back from Chicago had been delayed and we had just spent a lively but tiring weekend with our children and grandchildren.  On the other hand, the tickets to the movie screening at the Garden State Mall in Paramus were prepaid and the film’s acclaimed director, the most famous guest speaker of the season, was scheduled to discuss his work after the showing.  So off we went.  We could catch up with our sleep later on.

Keeping my eyes open during the movie was a formidable task but an icy drink and a sugar candy rush helped.  Mr. Acclaimed Director was just getting into his spiel about how difficult it was to make his film with a low budget, when we first heard it; faintly, very faintly at first; just a low beeping of an alarm accompanied by some flickering of  lights on the wall.  Disregarding the interruption, the speaker just forged ahead with his anecdotes, speaking more loudly now over a robotic announcement.

“Fire emergency.  Everyone exit the theater now.  Do not use the elevators.  This is a fire emergency. Everyone exit the theater now.”

The man at the podium looked annoyed that his attentive audience was now somewhat distracted. He soldiered on bravely as the moderator kept snapping his photo from every angle.  Meanwhile, the alarm never stopped.

My husband and I turned to each other and then looked around.  Was this a real alarm?

A malfunction? Will we look stupid if we make a dash to the door?  No one else was standing up to leave. Not one person in charge told us what to do. Then slowly, too slowly, some people in the crowd began to gather up their belongings and head to the aisles where they congregated in confusion.  My husband snapped out of his languor and shouted to the group blocking our row, “Get a move on everyone...  We have to leave. Now! Let’s go people.” And we pushed our way to the side exit and through to the street.

We were all lucky that night, thank G-d.  No one in the mall was hurt. We were able to leave the building before it was locked down.  It was only when we rushed out into the night  that we saw the unfolding chaos outside, as scores of police cars and ambulances swirled screeching around us.

As I think back about that night I am left with so many unanswerable questions.

Why would a young man want to kill himself in this way?  Why did he have easy access   to a weapon? As for the rest of us seated passively in that movie theater, why was it that we were so indifferent to the ringing alarm, that we almost failed to react?  It’s true that had we heard shots, we would have all responded immediately.  Nevertheless,  hundreds of people ignored a very clear warning.  Are we so accustomed to flashing screens and ringing phones that we assume the bell is merely tolling for someone else? Or, is it merely human nature to want to believe that bad things happen to other people, or perhaps only in the action up on the silver screen,  at a Monday night at the movies?

Estelle Glass a Teaneck resident is a retired educator who is happily writing her own essays

By Estelle Glass

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