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Mayor: Mall brawl gives Monroeville a black eye

| Saturday, Dec. 27, 2014, 9:56 a.m.
Shoppers walk through the ground floor at Monroeville Mall on Friday, Dec. 26, 2014. Responding to brawls involving a 1,000-teen flash mob that closed down the mall Friday night, Monroeville's mayor said that he and municipal police officials will discuss amping up security at the shopping center.
Andrew Russell | Trib Total Media
Shoppers walk through the ground floor at Monroeville Mall on Friday, Dec. 26, 2014. Responding to brawls involving a 1,000-teen flash mob that closed down the mall Friday night, Monroeville's mayor said that he and municipal police officials will discuss amping up security at the shopping center.

Waves of teenagers rushed from one fight to another. Store managers closed their doors to shield employees and scared shoppers. Monroeville police asked for help from other departments to quell brawls stemming from a thousand-teen flash mob gone violent.

Merchants at Monroeville Mall described the chaos that enveloped the shopping center Friday night as being unlike anything they had seen and questioned why it took mall management and police until 8:30 p.m. to decide to close the place down.

“It just escalated,” Keith Simmons, manager of Shoe Dept. Encore, said Saturday. “You could see it coming around 5 p.m.”

Monroeville police Chief K. Douglas Cole said closing the mall was no small feat.

“How many entrances do you think there are to the mall? It took 40 minutes to clear the facility. I think the mall did a great call when they made the call. I don't think it was too early or too late,” he said.

Police don't know what caused the chaos, Cole said. Video posted on social media Friday and Saturday showed mainly young black women fighting, and witnesses holding phones in the air, recording every motion.

Officers were called to break up a fight about 5 p.m., Cole said. They responded at least two or three more times, and at that point, officers stayed and requested support from neighboring departments.

Police haven't seen anyone making online threats leading up to the brawls, he said.

“We are seeing messages that they were going to the mall, to meet at the mall type of messages,” Cole said.

The number of altercations is in flux, because many were broken up by security before they were reported to police, Cole said. The fights escalated into a final melee.

Police reported no arrests Friday or as of Saturday evening. At least two males suffered injuries that police did not believe to be life-threatening. One boy, injured about 5:30 p.m., went to Children's Hospital for treatment. Another male, injured about 8 p.m., went to AHN Forbes Hospital.

The only reported damage was to a free-standing kiosk.

Monroeville Mall spokeswoman Stacey Keating said mall management started to advise merchants at 8:30 p.m. to close their doors.

By then, Simmons had long shut his employees and patrons in. Other stores followed.

“I don't know why they didn't get a grip on it earlier,” he said.

Cole doesn't believe that the mob gathered in protest against police brutality, as had happened at other malls between Thanksgiving and Christmas. He wonders whether the fights started over something small. Other city officials agree.

“These things sometimes have the most simple, stupid starts to them,” said Ron Harvey, a Monroeville councilman and fire chief. “Weird situations between young people can tip this stuff off.”

The mall opened to slow traffic Saturday, and by mid-afternoon, it was crowded with orderly shoppers, teens and families among them.

Police increased their presence and joined the private security firm that Keating said patrols the inside and outside of the mall 24 hours per day, seven days per week, Cole said.

Monroeville Mayor Greg Erosenko said that he would meet with police and mall manager Tom Gerber to discuss amping security at the 1.3 million-square-foot shopping center, which once served as the set for the 1978 horror movie “Dawn of the Dead.”

“The mall is doing so well, it's reinventing itself . This gives Monroeville a black eye. There was no reason for any of that activity last night,” Erosenko said.

The Monroeville brawl was not the only one on the day after Christmas, a traditionally busy day for mall shoppers looking for deals and returning unwanted gifts. The Sacramento Bee reported that Arden Fair mall had to close early because of multiple fights among teens. The Kansas City Star and WMC Action News 5 reported Boxing Day fights at Independence Center Mall in Missouri and Wolfchase Galleria Mall in Memphis, both of which were blamed on scores of teens gathered via a social media call.

Shema Krinsky, marketing director of The Mall at Robinson, said it experienced no problems Friday or Saturday, and mall management did not make any changes to security. Ross Park Mall and South Hills Village officials did not return messages, and Century III mall officials couldn't be reached.

Monroeville Mall would have closed Friday at 10 p.m., said Cole, observing holiday hours. When the decision came down to close earlier, authorities brought in extra buses to take the teens home. At 10 p.m., the 12-screen Cinemark movie theater added in 2012 reopened in time for its late showings.

By then, Cole said, everything was quiet.

“When the buses left,” he said, “the problem left.”

Staff writer Adam Brandolph contributed to this report. Megha Satyanarayana is a Trib Total Media staff writer. She can be reached at 412-320-7991 or megha@tribweb.com. Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.