Shoppers react to shooting inside Fresno Fashion Fair mall

It was another typically busy Saturday afternoon at Fresno’s Fashion Fair mall, albeit face masks and other restrictions remain in place amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Then suddenly, just before 4 p.m., shots rang out, triggering a chaotic scene as shoppers, store owners and clerks ran for the exits or sought safety behind locked doors.

In the end, only one injury was reported — not from gunfire but from the near-stampede that ensued — in what police learned was a dispute between one man and a group of several others.

As the police investigation continued, a Fresno shopper who didn’t want to give his name said he was inside the mall looking for shoes with his daughter, son and niece when he heard a shot.

“I was standing in line waiting to go into Foot Locker,” the man said. “You just heard one loud bang. Being indoors it sounded a little distorted and sounded like something dropped.

“I looked over and asked, ‘Was that a shot?’ They were like, ‘Yeah.’ That is when I looked behind me and … a whole bunch of individuals started running towards the east end of the mall.”

The man said he grabbed his daughter’s hand and they began to run. An initial option was to take shelter in one of the stores, but they kept going because his son and niece were farther ahead.

Then another shot was fired, the man said.

“We ran into this door right here and we were waiting outside,” the man said. “We started walking back to my car and they said they heard a couple more shots.”

Police arrived quickly and were able to determine it was not an active-shooter situation, even as a search for suspects continued.

Hurrying to hide

“Women, children, people just going about their daily activities,” Fresno Police Lt. Andre Benson said as investigators surveyed the scene, adding officers who entered the mall found families hiding inside dressing rooms and bathrooms.

The mall was evacuated and was to remain closed Saturday night.

“Fashion Fair Mall is temporarily closed and will reopen Sunday, January 3 at 11 a.m.,” Fashion Fair’s website stated. “We appreciate your understanding.”

Just how close anyone came to being hit as the bullets flew was not immediately known, but police said multiple shell casings were found inside.

The male shopper said others told him the shooting happened near the Starbucks in the middle of the mall.

“I’ve never been involved in something like that before,” he said. “It was something different and scary at the same time because you didn’t know where the shots were coming from.”

Stuck inside

A woman, who identified herself only as Skylar, said she was on the opposite end of the mall when she heard two shots. She said she remained inside for 30 minutes before being let out.

Selena Avalos of Fresno was ordering food inside the Cheesecake Factory when she said she noticed people running outside. Then some made a dash for the restaurant.

A few who made it inside, Avalos said, started screaming for the business to lock its doors as gunshots could be heard going off.

“Basically, everyone was panicking,” Alavos said. “I ran and I panicked and I automatically was in survival mode.”

She ran into the kitchen, she said, feeling like her “life was at risk at that moment.”

Social media accounts quickly lit up with warnings for people to stay away from the area.

There were 612 mass-shooting incidents in the United States in 2020 (defined as a minimum of four victims shot, not including the shooter), according to the Gun Violence Archive, and four already in 2021.

An Associated Press review showed mass shootings under a different definition, incidents in which four or more people died — excluding the shooter — fell by half from 43 in 2019 to 21 in 2020.

Fresno has made national headlines for mass shootings several times in recent years, including one at a house party in November 2019 that left four dead and six wounded.

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Anthony Galaviz writes about sports for The Fresno Bee. He covers the Las Vegas Raiders, high schools, boxing, MMA and junior colleges. He’s been with The Bee since 1997 and attended Fresno City College before graduating from Fresno State with a major in journalism and a minor in criminology.
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