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Bowmanstown woman, daughter spend hours in lockdown after shots fired at mall

Tonia Smale-Lorenzo dropped off her husband, Domingo, at Home Depot Saturday and took her 4-year-old daughter to make a quick stop at Build-A-Bear Workshop in the Lehigh Valley Mall. They had a great afternoon at Grim’s Orchard in Breinigsville and wanted to make a quick stop on the way home.

Three hours later the Bowmanstown woman left in an armored police vehicle, after being locked down because of shots fired at the mall.

After Smale-Lorenzo and her daughter Isabella picked out the bear for a birthday party Sunday, she decided to walk downstairs and stop at Torrid for a minute to look at jeans. Suddenly the greeter in the front of the store yelled for everyone to get to the back of store. She lowered the security gate at the store’s entrance to the mall.

“I looked to the front and there was a stampede of people. All I saw was hands and hair flying (as people ran past the store, Smale-Lorenzo said.

Smale-Lorenzo didn’t hear shots fired, but she said the COVID person who was stationed at the front of the store clearly heard the shots coming from the direction of Modell’s and J.C. Penney. “She said it almost sounded like something big was falling,” Smale-Lorenzo said. The worker said then she recognized the sound of gunshots and dropped the metal gate.

Smale-Lorenzo praised the workers for their quick reaction.

“They did wonderfully.”

She left a note thanking the four employees who ushered six customers to a storeroom at the back of the store.

“They barricaded the door and we sat on the floor,” Smale-Lorenzo said. “They told us to keep quiet, to use our whisper voices.”

In the storeroom

Smale-Lorenzo had crayons in her purse, and they tore open a shopping bag for Isabella to color. One of the customers helped to distract Isabella to keep her from being afraid.

He tore up store tags and made confetti to throw around.

Inside the storage room, Smale-Lorenzo said, “It was an adrenaline rush, a couple of tears, everyone was trying to stay brave for Isabella.”

The ceiling in the storeroom was open so workers said they could crawl out on a ladder if needed.

Smale-Lorenzo said, “If we could get out that way, it meant someone could also get in that way. We were sitting ducks. We didn’t know if the shooter was still out there.”

Smale-Lorenzo had no cell service or internet on her phone inside the mall. Workers allowed them to take turns calling loved ones on a cordless phone they brought into the storeroom.

“There was no cellphone reception. In today’s day and age, they need to have cell reception or at least public internet,” Smale-Lorenzo said. She is going to contact the mall ownership to push for change.

Smale-Lorenzo was first because she had a child. She had to call twice before her husband picked up the phone because he didn’t recognize the number calling. When he picked up, she said, “I told him. ‘We’re OK, we’re in the backroom of the store.”

Domingo left everything in a cart at Home Depot and walked up to the Lehigh Valley Mall to wait for several hours outside for his wife and daughter.

While Smale-Lorenzo was inside the storeroom, police were looking at shell casings and securing the mall.

Multiple units were on scene, including local, state police and federal authorities. Members of a special response team were walking through the mall. When they determined it was safe, they began going from store to store to bring people out.

Both Whitehall Township police and Smale-Lorenzo said the mall was crowded Saturday afternoon.

“The line was 21 deep to get into Build-A-Bear. There were lines everywhere in the mall. You would have thought it was Christmas.”

When police came to Torrid, they lined up the people and escorted them through the center of the mall through the exit to a waiting armored vehicle to go to Bob’s Furniture on the outskirts of the mall.

As the adrenaline settled on the ride home, they realized they had missed dinner and they were hungry, so they made a quick stop at Sheetz for some food before heading home.

Smale-Lorenzo worries about her daughter going through the ordeal. Last year they lost their home to a fire. But Isabella was able to sleep Saturday night and enjoyed the birthday party Sunday.

Few details

Domingo Lorenzo said police weren’t giving many details for those waiting outside. Someone at the scene told him the police first went through the mall with search dogs.

In the news conference Saturday night, police said they are searching for the person who fired shots late Saturday afternoon at the Lehigh Valley Mall in Whitehall.

Whitehall Chief Michael Marks said Saturday night the police have few details and no description of the shooter. There were no victims, Marks said.

Shell casings were found at the scene and people were asked to shelter in place in stores until they could be safely evacuated from the mall. Police were accounting for all the employees and said the main goal is to “reunite everyone with their families.”

“Our primary focus was making sure everyone is safe and sound,” Marks said.

He stressed that police have “very few details at this point” and are asking for the public’s help in identifying the suspect.

Police are studying surveillance video and also ask if anyone has cellphone video to call the department at 610-437-3042.