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A victim of a cruel hoax

By LETTY JACINTO-LOPEZ Published Aug 16, 2022 5:00 am

"Bobot wants to buy a face cream,” said Arthur, my husband. How convenient that our hotel was right beside the Westfield Mall in Culver City, a suburb of Los Angeles County, California. We also decided to have lunch at the food court located on the second level of the mall.

“Let’s find a table closest to the exit,” Arthur said.

We ordered Middle Eastern-style grilled food from Massis Kebab and I quickly found an empty table for the four of us.

Arthur noticed a thick trolley bag left under the table adjacent to ours. His antenna went up. He called a roving mall officer, who radioed for assistance. Arthur whispered, “Stay back just in case that trolley explodes.” 

When they were about to remove, neutralize or disarm the trolley, the owner showed up claiming that he was just in a queue to buy a drink, but was clearly reserving the table for his group.

Finally, I was enjoying the freshly grilled chicken kebab over a bed of basmati rice pilaf with cucumber salad, yogurt cream, roasted jalapeños and juicy tomatoes.

Suddenly, we saw a growing mass of people on the ground floor who were rushing towards us like a tsunami. 

“Where’s the fire?” I cried. There was no smoke nor was there any alarm that went off. I didn’t hear any gunfire either.

Breathing rapidly, my sister-in-law, Monette, yelled, “Let’s go!” We made a mad dash for the nearest exit, which was just a few steps away from where we were seated. 

Scrambling up the steps, someone must have climbed over me like a step ladder and the propelling force made me hit my head on the glass door. Wham!

One kind Latino shielded me from getting crushed and that’s when Bobot yanked me from a horizontal position and got me past the exit door to safety. Arthur was right behind me, but he lost his footing and badly scraped his knee and elbow.

We reached the third level of an open car park that was quiet and deserted. My knees were not shaking, but they wobbled like jelly. I heard sirens blaring.

Arthur and Letty Lopez with JC Penny’s Genesis

The entire ground floor was sealed off.

Luckily, JCPenny, one of the retail shops at the farthest end of the complex, opened their emergency door to allow us into their wing. One staff member named Genesis was holding a two-way radio, coordinating with their in-house security to lock up the premises but at the same time, offering help and assistance to stranded customers.

She took us to their emergency clinic to dress and apply a bandage to Arthur’s bleeding elbow and she also called the paramedic to have my head checked for a possible concussion.

The Culver City Fire Department arrived with three men.

I read somewhere that the first 10 seconds of this type of ambush is critical and the chance of making it out alive is far greater the sooner you get out of the “kill zone.”

One was a paramedic who took my blood pressure. It was normal.

“Ma‘m, we need to take you to the hospital so that we can make a thorough examination of your bump,” he further assessed.

The author being attended to by the Culver City Fire Department paramedic and emergency crew.

I shook my head, “I don’t have a headache nor do I feel groggy nor my vision blurred.” I didn’t want to get stuck in the hospital when our flight was leaving in a few hours. Since they could not sway me, the paramedic asked me to sign a waiver sheet.

The mall reopened within an hour leaving no trace of the mayhem. However, one shop owner said that the robbery happened at Best Buy and the burglars were armed to the teeth.

Returning to the hotel, the desk clerk named Brianna related how she witnessed the ensuing pandemonium from the hotel security cameras. Since her first concern was to secure all their guests, she immediately locked the main door and barred anyone from going in or coming out.

“People were scurrying out of the mall and rushing back to the hotel screaming frantically to let them in,” she said. Eventually, Brianna opened the door to returning guests.

Brianna’s mother, who was working at the mall, related that hysteria broke when a bored group of young people spread a sick rumor that the mall was “under siege.”

I read somewhere that the first 10 seconds of this type of ambush is critical and the chance of making it out alive is far greater the sooner you get out of the “kill zone.”

My son Jebo had the same analysis: Many who are out of work and in sheer boredom and callousness would resort to spreading fear and turmoil just to gain publicity and media attention.

It was brutal, insensitive, and cruel disregard for others.

The Evening News officially confirmed that it was all a hoax.

 Yeah, right.

After Arthur got hurt and I got this throbbing bukol.

It was time to go home.

When going to a mall or the market, make a mental note to:

• Know and head to the nearest exit.

• Run to the highest level and attempt rescue from the roof.

• If you have a proper training, set an ambush, recover a weapon, and shoot your way out.

• Most importantly, trust your gut and be alert to someone or a situation that just doesn’t seem right so you can notify the proper authorities.