EAST RUTHERFORD – American Dream was locked down on Thursday night after gunshots rang out, creating chaos in the huge shopping and entertainment complex that separated parents from their children as customers ran to safety.
The shots were heard just before 6 p.m. and police locked down the mall soon after. A little after 8 p.m., state police reported that this was not an active shooter situation.
It “has been determined not to be an active shooter,” New Jersey State Police tweeted at 8:20 p.m. “The mall is secure and soldiers are removing customers safely. […] The American Dream will remain closed.”
Police did not provide further details of the incident., which happened around 5:50 p.m., or say if anyone was injured. NBC New York, citing multiple sources, reported that one person was shot.
Isabella O’Malley, 23, was on the third floor of the mall with her mother and younger brother when she said she heard two gunshots.
“At first we didn’t think it was gunshots, but then we saw people running and we knew something was wrong,” O’Malley said.
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She said they tried to run into a store only to find that stores were starting to close. Instead, they took the escalators down to the ground floor. When they arrived at the parking lot, the police were already there to tell shoppers to get in their cars and drive away.
Shoppers who were evacuated from the mall were waiting in the parking lot to meet their families who were holed up on the other side of the resort at the theme parks.
“Anyone looking to locate family members, please go to lot 26,” state police said.
Virginia’s Theodore Allen, who was in the mall when the incident happened, said of his family, “I think they’re still stuck in the water park. I can’t go there because they won’t let me. So I’m just sitting here waiting.
Tony Smith of Virginia, who was holed up at the theme park and is Allen’s dad, said by cellphone: ‘I guess they let out the sections one at a time which is stupid because you have children there and parents here. So everyone is separated.
Smith said he was caring for a 10-year-old boy who had separated from his mother and did not know where she was.
Allen was shopping at Spencer’s Gift’s while his family was in the water park and heard a loud bang echoing from the center of the shopping complex, near the food court.
“I heard people say it was firecrackers, so I didn’t think about it” at the time, Allen said. When he checked the area, he saw what looked like pieces of firecrackers on the ground and assumed it was just a prank.
“But later,” he said, “I saw people rushing out.”
Governor Murphy tweeted Thursday night to thank police for their response. “Thank you to our brave @NJSP Troopers and law enforcement professionals at the American Dream Mall scene. We are extremely grateful for your prompt response.”
Thursday’s incident is the latest in a long troubled history for a mall that took decades to build.
The idea of a mega mall was first floated in 1996 with heavy construction starting in 2005 under the name Xanadu. The original multicolored structure became an eyesore along Route 3 of a seemingly failed project.
Many lawsuits and multiple owners later, the American Dream Mall finally opened in the fall of 2019 with theme parks, boutiques and chain stores, and restaurants.
Then, a few months later, the COVID pandemic hit, dealing another blow to the project.
In September 2021, a fire broke out at the 16-story, 180,000-square-foot ski and snowboard park which has kept the attraction closed ever since.
On Big Snow’s website, a note says the attraction is scheduled to reopen on Memorial Day weekend.
Nicholas Katzban is a breaking news reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to all the major news happening in North Jersey, subscribe here. To get the latest news straight to your inbox, Subscribe to our newsletter.