Amid holiday rush, a scant nod to mall gunfire

Jan 2nd, 2014 | By | Category: Bateman's Blog

We were in the Cost Plus World Market checkout line with a couple of bottles of Arrogant Bastard Ale when some arrogant bastard – or gang banger, crankster, meth head, dirtbag or nutcase – fired a few shots.

They rang out at 4:45 p.m. Dec. 20 after a reported altercation at the main entrance of the West Valley Mall in Tracy. We were at that very mall, doing some Christmas shopping before picking up our son at the Oakland Airport.

Except we didn’t hear the shots from Cost Plus. In fact we didn’t hear anything about the shots until 20 minutes later, when we were at Barnes and Noble, shoving a load of cookbooks and calendars in front of a checker.

“There was a shooting,” a woman with her own pile of books and calendars casually told the cashier next to ours. “I think by the mall entrance.”

The checker cheerily told the woman what she owed and I wondered: Did that lady really say there had been a shooting? Maybe she said “a sharing,” or something else more Christmas-like. In any case, I was too self-conscious to blurt out “Did you say SHOOTING??

Because if there really had been a mall shooting, wouldn’t there be sirens, evacuations and high alerts? Wouldn’t we be taking cover behind bookshelves, saying our prayers and watching our lives pass in front of us?

Apparently not. Because by the time we got to Macy’s – in  search of a Nutribullet (I’m not making the name up; it’s a kind of juicer) – it was obvious that real, not-so-nutritious bullets had flown.

We overheard one shopper tell another that the cops were in the parking lot, ordering drivers to get out of their cars to search back seats and trunks for the shooter. There was talk of multiple ambulances and of  squad cars everywhere.

But there was no panicking in Macy’s aisles: Bargain hunters jostled among the crockpots, food processors, popcorn makers and grills, not about to be deterred by an errant round or two.

“Bang-bang, you’re dead,” cracked a Hispanic shopper to his girlfriend as both laughed their way out of the store with armloads of Christmas loot.

As we reached the cash register, speculation was ramping up. Two, maybe three people had been shot. One, maybe two shooters were at large. Nobody seemed to have reliable information.

As we shoved our Nutribullet onto the counter, a breathless checker just beginning her shift arrived and shed her warm coat.

“They made me go completely around the building to the far entrance to get in,” she griped to a colleague. “That’s why I’m late. If somebody docks me for this, I’m gonna kill ‘em.”

If anyone saw irony here, it went unspoken. We moved to the front of the line, paid for our Nutribullet (no cooling-off period or background check necessary) and walked out of the store. In the parking lot, we looked in all directions for dark, shadowy figures in the night.

By the time we got to Rubio’s, our favorite fish taco joint, we saw one. We were walking toward the restaurant when a white sedan – maybe a Buick or Ford – screeched into a nearby parking space. The driver swung open the door, jumped out and ran full tilt around a nearby building.

The shooter? A cop chasing the shooter? Or just a shopper running out of time? We speculated over dinner, then I checked my smart phone for any news of the shooting as we left.

Shots fired at mall, read one online report, shooter jumped into a white car and fled.

“A white car?” said my wife. “That could have been the guy!”

We were debating whether to call 911 when I came upon another report: No one was hurt. The gunman escaped in a white Toyota Camry. Not the sedan we had seen.

“Must have been a cop,” said Suzy.  

A Camry?” I thought, shifting into a TV mentality.  “Doesn’t sound like a bad guy’s car.”

And we later found that the West Valley shooter fled on foot. Another gunman, who fired shots and hit at least one victim at a shooting in San Leandro at about the same time, had jumped in the Camry.

All of which shows how surreal this episode was.

As we drove out of Tracy we scoured the radio dial for news. We found traffic, weather, sports, politics, Obamacare, budget compromise, Warrior hoops, but nothing of our mall shooting. Or San Leandro’s.  No bulletins, no breaking news, nothing.

There was some coverage in the papers the next morning, but very little in the days that followed. A suspect has since been arrested; an 18-year-old man from Tracy is now facing charges.

So why wasn’t this big news?  Because nobody died? Or because here in the U.S. flying bullets have become an unexceptional feature of our cultural landscape?

Maybe – in this  era of  Virginia Tech, Fort Hood,  Sandy Hook,  Aurora and counting – we’ve become sufficiently desensitized that a couple of shots fired attract little more attention than the mall sound system skipping a verse in “Silver Bells.”

Which offers precious little comfort and joy at Christmas.

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