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Four people stabbed at Target in East Liberty

| Monday, March 25, 2013, 6:18 p.m.
Emergency crews surround the East Liberty Target store Monday afternoon, March 25, 2013 after an knife-wielding man stabbed multiple victims. The suspect, who hasn't been identified, was apprehended at the scene.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Emergency crews surround the East Liberty Target store Monday afternoon, March 25, 2013 after an knife-wielding man stabbed multiple victims. The suspect, who hasn't been identified, was apprehended at the scene.

Pandemonium erupted near the checkout line of an East Liberty store filled with shoppers Monday afternoon when a man with a knife stabbed or slashed three people, including a 16-year-old girl who witnesses said was being used as a human shield.

The assailant is believed to have slashed a fourth person along a street a short time earlier before he was chased or followed to the Target store on Penn Avenue and attempted to get lost in the crowd, Pittsburgh police Sgt. Thomas Huerbin said.

None of the injuries appeared to be life-threatening and the victims were not identified by police. The girl was in serious condition at Children's Hospital in Lawrenceville, where she underwent surgery for stab wounds to the back and an arm, Huerbin said.

Also taken to the hospital were a man who had chest pains while trying to subdue the assailant and a police officer who was contaminated with pepper spray during the struggle, the sergeant said.

“After he grabbed the (16-year-old) he was screaming, ‘They tried to rob me. They have my wallet.' It looked like he was holding her hostage. He seen the men coming after him with a bat and he grabbed the woman. They were trying to get him,” said Dominique Gomez, 21 of Wilkinsburg.

“One man was stabbed in the mouth. Another was stabbed in the finger,” Gomez said. “I think the man who was stabbed in the mouth was one of those (who) came up here looking for him.”

Huerbin said police don't know if there was a robbery, but he and city police spokeswoman Diane Richard agreed the incident began when one man was slashed or assaulted near Highland Avenue and Whitfield Street.

At least two men, including the man who was injured, then chased the assailant to the second level of the Target, where he fled into a men's room, followed by one of the pursuers, Richard said.

Moments later, witnesses saw the assailant chasing the other man out of the restroom, Richard said.

The man with the knife then ran to the checkout line where the 16-year-old girl was standing with her family, Richard said.

“He grabbed (the 16-year-old)...and held her in front of him with knife still in hand,” Richard said.

Surveillance video shows the assailant later holding the teen on the floor at knifepoint while two men pounced on him, Huerbin said. The video also shows the assailant — described by Gomez as a man with a “big kitchen knife” — being hit by the man with a bat, Huerbin said.

Chris Jones, 44, of Penn Hills, said he was outside the store when the man with the knife went running by, followed by several men.

“This guy obviously had no regard for anybody. By the time I got in the store the guy with a knife was getting his butt beat with a bat and fists,” Jones said. “It was pretty scary hearing girls screaming... Everybody was freaking out, hiding behind shelves, trying to stay out of the way.”

Huerbin credited Target employees with keeping most customers away from the melee and out of immediate danger.

Police subdued the unnamed assailant by using Tasers and pepper spray, Huerbin said. He was being questioned by detectives and faces a variety of charges, Huerbin said.

At the William Penn Smoke Shop, near where the initial confrontation took place, owner Darshana Maniyar, 40, said she heard men shouting on Highland Avenue.

“I heard the noise and saw a couple people running by, but I didn't see what started it,” Maniyar said. “There's always something out there, but sometimes it's just for fun.”

Her son, Umang, 19, said he saw at least one man run past the window carrying a bat.

Target closed for the night while crews were called to clean blood off the floors. Customers were told it will reopen at 8 a.m. Tuesday.

The store opened in July 2011 as part of ongoing efforts to redevelop East Liberty. It was built on the site of low-income housing that was torn down and serves as the anchor for the neighborhood's new business district.

Michael Hasch is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Staff writers Bobby Kerlik and Matthew Santoni contributed this report.

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