HOBART | Westfield Southlake mall was evacuated about 6:30 p.m. Saturday after a shot was fired in one of the mall's open areas when two groups of youths got into a fight.
Off-duty Hobart police officers working mall security chased and swiftly apprehended three boys, ages 14, 15 and 16, and were searching for a fourth Saturday night, Hobart Police Chief Jeff White said. The fourth boy is believed to be the brother of one of the three arrested, he said.
One of the youths fired a Russian-made 7.65 mm handgun, "which is a pretty lethal round," White said. The bullet lodged in the ceiling and did not penetrate to the upper mall level. Then the gun jammed, White said.
The youths were outside Gloria Jean's Coffees, police said. Those arrested and the one being sought were "definitely the aggressors" in the fight, White said.
The youth who is determined to have fired the gun could face a felony charge of criminal recklessness, particularly because a gun was involved, White said.
Witnesses reported a chaotic scene as people fled after the gunshot, and traffic was backed up on exit roads around the mall for an hour following the evacuation. The mall remained locked down into the night.
Brandon Wright, of Crown Point, and his cousin Tabitha Dolton, of Merrillville, told The Times they had been near the carousel and Gloria Jean's about 6:30 p.m. when a group of teenagers walked by talking about fighting.
"It was just a bunch of kids running, saying they were going to fight," Wright said.
The cousins continued walking away from the kids, Dolton said, and "all of a sudden we heard gunshots."
"We just ran for our lives after that," Wright said.
Word quickly spread through the mall, but some diners at restaurants like Cooper's Hawk Winery and Restaurant, at the other end of the mall, reportedly finished their meals before leaving, while others exited quickly without paying.
That wasn't the case close to the shooting.
Leeanna Penick, 26, of Hobart, was shopping for Christmas candy and dresses for the upcoming holidays in Macy's at the time of the fight.
"I was standing there looking at the candy and I just heard a large crack," she said. "I turned around and then everyone was running. Someone said, 'There's a shooting,' and it was just chaotic for a few minutes because everyone was scared."