Community shaken after Allen mall shooting taints place of cherished memories

Visitors recall that the Allen Premium Outlets mall was the setting for pivotal memories, now upended by a violent tragedy.

By Michelle Aslam and Elizabeth Myong, KERAMay 12, 2023 10:30 am, ,

From KERA:

On Saturday morning, Brittany Rohleder planned to take her family out for a day of shopping. Her oldest daughter needed a new pair of shoes, and what better place to go than the mall where the 10-year-old had bought her first pair of heels?

The family visited Allen Premium Outlets mall a couple of times a year. It has the closest Children’s Place, and Rohleder said the mall has great deals. When she visits, her children beg for quarters to play on the boat rides near the store, and Rohleder’s husband likes to grab treats from Great American Cookies.

But things didn’t go as Rohleder planned that Saturday. As she put it, her family was blessed for being lazy.

My younger daughter slept in for the first time in months, so her afternoon nap was delayed, and so we didn’t end up getting to go there,” Rohleder said.

Yfat Yossifor / KERA

Riley Barham, Brie Etheridge and Marina Martinez hug in a circle at the memorial for the victims of Saturday’s shooting Monday, May 8, 2023, at Allen Premium Outlets in Allen.

On the way to dinner later that day, they could see the police cars from the highway and instantly knew to check social media.

“We were really glad that my youngest slept in that day because if she hadn’t, we probably would have been there,” Rohleder said.

The shooting Saturday at the outlet mall left eight dead and seven injured, and it also left more than a thousand visitors in the area deeply shaken. It also leaves the larger North Texas community feeling vulnerable and violated in the wake of a tragedy so close to home.

The city of Allen, about 25 miles north of Dallas, is a relatively diverse suburb with a significant Asian, Black and Latino population. Stores like H&M, Children’s Place and Polo Ralph Lauren attract crowds of all ages from around North Texas, looking for good deals and an excuse to spend some time outside with family and friends. Visitors recall that the mall was the setting for many pivotal life moments, from shopping for first job interviews and college graduations, to building everyday memories with family on the weekends.

Jessica Hernandez, a mother of two from Plano, also frequented the mall to buy clothes for her children. She remembers spending time at the food trucks, eating tacos and churros with her toddlers.

“I love the outside feel of the outlet mall. That’s one of the reasons why we do go. And they have amazing stores there. And so just being able to walk around and just have that fresh air, it’s not something that we’re just always getting,” Hernandez said.

She wasn’t at the outlet mall when the shooting happened. Still, it’s been difficult for her.

“I did not think something like that could really, you know, affect me the way that it did. And I wasn’t there,” Hernandez said. She previously worked for CPS and often dealt with cases of violence and abuse. I’ve seen some really ugly things throughout my career, but it definitely hit home. And it really hit on another personal level,” she said.

Hernandez doesn’t think she will be able to go back.

“I can’t imagine anybody wanting to go back there,” Hernandez said. “I think the anxiety and the trauma would just be entirely there too much, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable.”

Rifah Zaman, an MBA student at the University of North Texas, said she’s feeling a similar kind of anxiety. “The fact that it happened here, it’s just so surprising. And, you know, it kind of makes you realize that no place is safe,” she said. “My first thought was like, ‘Oh gee, now I have to start thinking about where are the first exits.’ Whenever I go somewhere, I need to think about, what are my exit plans? Where can I hide in the case this happens?”

Yfat Yossifor / KERA

Community members gather for a prayer at the memorial for the victims of Saturday’s shooting Monday, May 8, 2023, at Allen Premium Outlets in Allen.

But others, such as Allen resident Suzannah Wiedemann, feel more open to returning one day.

“It’s not the mall’s fault. It’s just a building where something tragic happened. I think part of the healing process is getting basically back in the saddle,” she said.

The Allen outlet mall is now closed indefinitely, but even when people finally return, the community’s memories of the tragedy will linger in a space that was once considered an escape.

In the midst of heartache and fear, Rohleder said she has faith in the local community’s ability to support each other.

“There are people who just, like, showed up to give rides to total strangers and hotels that let them stay there,” she said. “I guess as a community, we kind of take care of each other.”

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