I have just finished buying electronics at Best Buy at the Garden State Mall in New Jersey. I have our three young children with me, ages twelve, seven, and five. It is about 9:10pm. I have brought the kids with me because, due to the statewide elections the following day, they have no school.
My wife and fifteen-year-old daughter are in the mall proper. Since it closes at 9:30pm, I call Debbie and tell her I will walk the kids into the mall’s main building and meet her.
Best Buy is detached from the mall. We walk across the parking lot and into the entrance. There is a carousel in front of us and I decide I should put the kids on it until the mall closes.
Suddenly tens of people start running toward us screaming “There’s a shooter. SHOOTER. Run. Get out.” There is no need to think. I am not in shock but clear-headed. There have been so many shootings lately in America that I know exactly what this is. A crazy person is on a shooting rampage in a mall and this time we are not watching it on TV, we are not reading about it on the net. We are at the center of it.
I take the three kids by the hands and make an immediate about face. We begin to run. The kids are in utter panic, absorbing what is happening. They are not crying. Yet. We make it to the parking lot and start running toward our car. I stop outside the car. I dial my wife whom I had spoken to just five minutes earlier. The call goes straight to voice mail. I call my daughter. Straight to voice mail. I am gripped by fear and terror that have I have rarely felt in my entire life. I call again, both numbers. Straight to voice mail. I am shaking. Why won’t they answer? My God, my God, why won’t they answer? I pray to my Creator and beg Him for mercy. “This is my wife. This is my child. Please protect them.” Why won’t they answer?
I put the kids in the car. I am outside on the phone. I call again. Mercy of mercies, my wife answers. She is trembling as she speaks. “There’s a shooter, Shmuley, right outside a store we’re in. The salesperson saw him. He was carrying an AK-47, holding it in the air. We heard about 6 shots. We’re terrified. Where are you? Get out. Get out of the mall. Are the kids OK?”
I assure her that we’re safe, in the parking lot. I push her to address where she is. Is she safe? She says, “We’re hiding, locked in a stock room with about 10 other people. But the door is made of glass.”
I tell her that whatever she does she must not come out. Answer your phone. She explains that the reason the phones went to voice mail was that they were both calling 911. I tell her, “No matter whom you’re speaking to, answer if I call.”
I get off the phone and call 911. I tell them there is a shooter in the Garden State Mall. I tell them there is no police. How can there be no police? It’s been minutes and no response. They tell me to tell my wife to hide and not come out.
I call the owners of the Westfield Mall Corporation, the Lowy family, whom I know from my time as a Rabbinical student in Sydney, Australia and with whom I have stayed in touch. Answering machine. I call a mutual friend in LA. He ultimately and miraculously gets the head of mall security on the line. I tell him where my wife and daughter are hiding. He assures me someone will come to get them. He is comforting and assuring. Your wife and daughter will be OK.
Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, my close friend whose swearing my wife and I attended just last Thursday in DC, pops instantly into my mind. He has battled assault weapons in New Jersey for years. He has shared with me countless stories of tragic shootings in our state. Having been mayor of Newark, right nearby, he will know the local police. He will expedite the police presence and get them to rescue the people inside. He will be able to tell them where my wife and daughter are so they can be rescued. Cory is very close to my wife and children. I text him in bold letters. “CORY THERE IS A SHOOTER IN THE GARDEN STATE MALL!!” I text his senior adviser, a close friend, who calls me right back and assures me he is on the phone with the police. He is informing them of the many people trapped inside and my wife’s whereabouts.