Allen Premium Outlets reopens nearly one month after mass shooting
The heat of an early Texas summer was already creeping in Wednesday morning at the Allen Premium Outlets as the parking lot filled with shoppers ready for its reopening.
People walked under the shade of storefront awnings as they passed paper signs taped to shop windows, thanking everyone for their patience as they adjusted to new hours. Keeping a watchful eye were Allen police officers and other security professionals, who patrolled every corner.
It had been 25 days since 33-year-old Mauricio Garcia opened fire in the outlet mall's parking lot, killing eight people and injuring seven.
Since then, families of the eight killed victims have hosted funerals for their lost loved ones. Some of the people hospitalized have since been released. A volunteer-made memorial in honor of those killed had come and gone — erected shortly after the shooting, and taken down a little more than a week later.
For some, the Allen mall is scarred, a site of pain and trauma for those who once frequented it. The shooting once again fueled debate about gun control and right-wing extremism after authorities revealed the gunman had eight weapons with him at the time of the shooting and showed "neo-Nazi ideation."
But on Wednesday, the mall was a place of healing — and an attempt by some at a return to normalcy.
Andrew Taylor and his daughter Ava were among those who returned for the mall's official reopening. But Taylor said shopping isn't the only reason they came back.
"The main reason is to show my daughter — who was scared — that it's OK," Taylor said. "Because when bad things happen, it's an opportunity to show the world that there's light."
The past year has been one full of grief for Taylor, who lost his sister just the day before coming to the mall. Yet as he and his daughter explored, he wore a smile. Taylor said that's because his religious faith keeps him afloat.
He said if he could offer advice to those who lost loved ones at the mall, it would be to turn anger into courage.
"I love the people around me, regardless of what they think and how they feel," Taylor said. "But it's important to know that pain can be utilized."
Allen police said one of their officers, who is yet to be identified, was on an unrelated call at the mall when he heard gunshots around 3:36 p.m. May 6. He responded to the scene and killed Garcia.
Eyewitnesses at the mall that day described the chaos as they hid in shops and scrambled away from the sound of gunfire.
Among the eight people killed was 20-year-old security guard Christian LaCour, who authorities said helped one person to safety before he was gunned down.
Three members of the Cho family — Kyu, Cindy and James — were also killed. The parents' 6-year-old son William was the only survivor among them.
Other victims included engineer Aishwarya Thatikonda, Cox Elementary students Daniela and Sofia Mendoza, and 32-year-old Dallas resident Elio Cumana-Rivas.
Returning to the mall was bittersweet for Chioma Anazodo. She said she's still haunted by the idea that she could have been one of the victims killed at the mall — it's a place she loves.
But she, too, has faith, and said she wants continue supporting the mall and its workers.
"If people don't come back, these shops will close and it's going to affect a lot of people," Anazodo said. "Some people are going to lose their jobs. But that's not what we want."
At a press conference three days after the shooting, local and state law enforcement acknowledged Garcia had tactical gear, tattoos of Nazi symbols and right-wing paraphernalia on his person.
But despite that, and the fact that seven of the eight victims were people of color, authorities said they would not call the shooting a hate crime — which local social justice advocates condemned.
Dan Scott, who visits the Allen mall once a month and returned there the day of its reopening, said the mass shooting should send a message to all Texans.
"Gun control is the answer," Scott said. "Nobody needs to carry a gun in public."
Mall management said it worked with the city to enlist mental health counselors to help employees heal and get through opening day.
A mall spokesperson wrote in a statement the mall's reopening comes with heavy hearts.
"We will continue to pray for the victims, their families and all who loved them," the statement reads. "At the same time, our retailers and center employees have been uplifted by the incredible outpouring of compassion and goodwill from the Allen community, of which we are so proud to be a part."
Though the memorial honoring the victims of the May 6 shooting has been taken down, a permanent one is set to take its place, management said.
The Allen community also showed its support: A group of volunteers signed up online to welcome employees back with gift baskets full of candy and encouraging notes.
One of those volunteers was Angela Fortney, who was in charge of the Champion store. Fortney, an Allen native, said the mall looked emptier than usual — she called it "surreal."
"I mean, it's so hard to express it in words," Fortney said. "It's kind of somber being here, but we're proud to be here and support these stores and these people. Our community."
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