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Some mall employees uncomfortable with response to incident

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By Emile Hallez

Southwest Plaza employees had differing reactions to safety precautions taken in the aftermath of the April 20 bomb scare, in which two propane tanks and a pipe bomb were found in the mall.

Most were shaken by the event, particularly regarding the overlap with the anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings, a coincidence virtually impossible to ignore.

But regarding the security response since the event and a perceived lack of communication from mall leadership, store employees differed when interviewed about how well the situation has been handled.

“We’re really unhappy with the way things have gone the past couple of days, the way they haven’t been saying anything,” said one store employee who asked not to be identified, fearing retaliation.

Though the mall issued a short statement to all stores, the information it provided a day after the event fell short of details provided by local and national media. For example, the statement did not mention explosives, instead calling the bombs “two suspicious items.”

“I understand that things happen and things get missed, but what are we doing to prevent it? This says nothing,” the employee said of the mall’s statement, the only such communication he said his store had received by two days after the incident.

Lack of communication about enhanced or increased security was frustrating, he explained, adding that the Jeffco bomb squad’s direction that store employees search their own stores for anything out of place was upsetting.

“Wednesday night, they sat us all down in the food court,” he said, explaining law enforcement’s directions. “I don’t know what a bomb looks like. … Why weren’t they searching the stores? Why were they just searching the hallways and kiosks?”

Others said they were satisfied with the response from mall security and police, noting that as much as possible seemed to have been done.

“There’s been more public safety present. … I don’t know what I could expect of them,” said Carl Van Laethem, owner of Black Gold Sports Collectibles.

Regarding the employee-guided searches of the stores, sheriff’s spokesman Mark Techmeyer said that a full search of every mall store by police would have been nearly impossible.

“They know their stores better than anyone,” he said of the employees.

“I don’t think it’s humanly feasible … to search every nook and cranny of every store,” he added of police involvement in the sweeps. “There’s no way they could have done that.”

Regardless, at least 60 investigators had been working on the case by April 22, he said.

“We are working as hard as we can,” he said of attempts to locate the suspect, 65-year-old Earl Moore, a recently paroled bank robber. “It’s really working well, except for the fact that we haven’t found the guy yet.”

Another issue of concern raised by mall employees was the failure of the building’s fire alarm, which was apparently inactive during the incident. The system was being testing between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. in prior days, employees said.

Southwest Plaza management staff directed questions to General Growth Properties, owner of mall.

“We’re not in a position where we can talk very much,” said spokeswoman Nicole Spreck, adding that she did not know whether the fire alarms had since been reactivated.

Though she did not say whether the mall is making any changes to its security operations, its practices are nonetheless being reviewed.

“We always do take it as an additional opportunity to review our security procedures,” she said.

Some mall employees remained rattled this week, as a few have been going through their daily routines with a tick of nervousness.

“Are we scared? Absolutely not,” said the employee who asked not to be identified. “But is there a sign of uneasiness? Definitely.”

 

Contact Emile Hallez Williams at emile@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22. For updates, check www.ColumbineCourier.com.