MANILA, Philippines (8th UPDATE) – A shooting incident between a band of robbers and policemen occurred at the Mall of Asia (MOA) in Pasay City shortly past 7 pm on Sunday, March 30, creating panic among shoppers and wounding an employee.
Waves of police commandos in bullet-proof vests and helmets and armed with assault rifles stormed the SM Mall of Asia, an Agence-France-Presse photographer saw, after the gang entered a jeweller’s shop inside.
Hundreds of frightened shoppers, waiters and store clerks ran for dear life amid gunfire toward the exits of the nearly four-hectare complex of department stores, boutiques, restaurants and entertainment establishments by Manila Bay.
The mall official told Rappler that the shooting occurred in one of the counters of the SM store inside the giant mall. Guards were forced to close all shops in the area, keeping customers inside.
A store manager told Rappler that at least two suspects tried to attack a jewelry shop at the SM store, prompting guards to respond. A commotion ensued, hurting an employee of an outdoor kiosk, mall authorities later said on their Twitter account. The employee, who was immediately brought to a nearby hospital, had a grazing wound and has been declared out of danger.
Rappler’s Jum Balea, who was in the mall during the incident, said the guards told them shortly past 7 pm that “there was a shooting” incident. Balea said shoppers were “shouting and running” when they first heard the order from the guards to stay inside.
Other mallgoers shared the same experience.
“We were in the grocery when we heard gunshots. We ran for the door immediately and my wife nearly fell with our 10-month-old boy,” office worker Stacy Mercado, 32, told AFP.
“The security guards initially blocked us, apparently because they feared some of us would steal items off the shelves on our way out. But they were swept aside after another burst of gunfire,” he added as the family of three watched the unfolding police operation in early evening behind yellow police lines outside.
The AFP photographer said he saw several people screaming or crying, including parents who told him they had been separated from their children or other family members in the ensuing chaos.
By 8 pm, one suspect was arrested at the Tokyo Tokyo restaurant, the mall official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity since he was not authorized to speak.
Police said no one was seriously hurt in the firefight, and confirmed the arrest of one of at least four armed suspects.
As of 8:20 pm, Balea said, “We’re calm now since the doors had been brought down and so we feel a bit safe.”
Customers were finally allowed to leave the shops at 8:30 pm, according to Balea. The entire mall was temporarily closed.
At 8:40 pm, Steven Tan, vice president for mall operations, said in a statement: “At 7:14 pm this evening the martilyo gang struck a jewelry counter at The SM Store in MOA. The police are already present in the area to conduct a thorough investigation. The mall is working closely with the PNP to resolve this.”
Southern Police District Director Jose Erwin Villacorte later told ANC, the ABS-CBN News Channel, that witnesses saw the suspects breaking jewelry counters. “Nag-iinventory pa pero sa tingin namin may nakuha,” Villacorte told ANC. (We’re doing an inventory, but we think some items were stolen.)
He said the strategy employed by the robbers is a “common tactic.”
“These robbers would go into a shop and start smashing the display cases with a hammer to grab things inside,” Villacorte said.
Owned by business tycoon Henry Sy, MOA is the country’s biggest mall.
In December 2013, also on a Sunday night, a robbery took place inside another Sy-owned mall, the SM North EDSA in Quezon City.
A statement by Tan at the time said the incident involved the “martilyo (hammer) gang,” which is known for targeting jewelry shops. – with reports from Agence-France-Presse/Rappler.com