Mall officials work to diminish fears

A day after a south county man shot a jewelry peddler outside Potomac Mills and two women robbed an arcade inside, mall officials said such crime was isolated and not reflective of the mall’s generally safe atmosphere.

Prince William police charged Jonathan Andy Guzman, 20, of Fincastle Drive with aggravated malicious wounding and shooting into an occupied vehicle for an 8:50 p.m. incident Wednesday that left a 36-year-old Emporia man shot in the arm after a jewelry transaction went bad.

According to police, witnesses said words were exchanged between the two and Guzman allegedly said, “I’m going to go get something for you,” which the victim and three other friends who were selling jewelry interpreted to mean a gun. The four men ran to their Lincoln Town Car, but Guzman shot at the car and one bullet hit the peddler, said Detective Dennis Mangan, a spokesman for Prince William police.

The victim was treated at Potomac Hospital, Mangan said.

Guzman also was charged with using a firearm in the commission of a felony and discharging a firearm in a public place.

Mangan said solicitation in the mall parking lot is illegal; he said he does not know if the victim will be charged.

Earlier that evening at about 7:45 p.m., two armed women robbed the Planet Fun store inside the mall. The pair fled toward the Marshall’s parking lot and are still at large, Mangan said. Police described the women as Hispanic, one 5 feet 9 inches tall and wearing dark blue Tommy Hilfiger apparel, and the other as 6 feet tall.

“Our number one priority is the safety of our customers. We take it very seriously; 19 percent of our total budget goes to security,” said mall manager Jim Ralston, repeating comments he gave after a Feb. 4 incident in which police say a man sodomized a 14-year-old boy in a mall bathroom. The mall has 70 cameras and turns the tapes over to police on a regular basis, he said.

“That incident with the kid in the bathroom was blown out of proportion,” said Kirk Benton of Woodbridge, speaking outside the main entrance Thursday. Benton used to work as a guard at the mall and now works at one of its stores.

“I know a lot of the guards. A lot of them are ex-military — I’m ex-military,” Benton said. But while the mall has a capable security staff, the community needs to be vigilant while out in public and report suspicious persons or events. “Things like this aren’t the end of the world.”

“Your basic mall rats were out last night and saw the whole (shooting incident unfold),” said Daryl Carpenter, 19, of Dale City, standing outside the mall’s theater entrance. He said he feels safe because the shooting is out of character for the mall. “This is Dale City, for crying out loud.”

“Somebody was shot?” asked Kristen Miller, 18, of Lake Ridge, after her shift at one of the mall’s clothing stores. She disagreed with Carpenter, saying she doesn’t always feel safe walking to her car, but they agreed the mall has been seeing more and more people who have nothing else to do, hurting its image with customers.

“It’s not like it’s a rich neighborhood, so a lot of people just come to hang out,” Miller said. She said if someone doesn’t feel safe walking to his or her car, security provides escorts.

The shooting comes two months after an armed robbery behind the Prince William Square shopping center across from Potomac Mills and a month and a half after shots were fired in the Manassas Mall parking lot.

During the robbery, a Michael’s Arts and Crafts employee was shot and another was punched in the face. Three men were charged with the crime.

The Manassas shooting was gang-related, police say, and two Manassas brothers were arrested.

“I think our malls are safe. I shop there all the time. It’s a rare incident that happens. Anything violent at that mall is rare,” Mangan said. “We have the occasional shoplifting, but other than that it’s safe with all the security there.”

“For the size of that mall, and the amount of people there, crime is next to nothing,” he said.

Staff writers Chris Newman and Adam H. Beasley can be reached at (703) 878-8000.

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