Officials at North Riverside Park Mall decided to close the shopping center early on Dec. 26 after a fight near the food court escalators ended with one store sustaining damage and three teenagers being cited for disorderly conduct.
Despite social media posts indicating multiple fights at the mall and the presence of weapons, both police and mall officials indicated the principal incident on Dec. 26 involved two juveniles on the second level of the mall near the central escalators.
Both boys, age 17 and 16, were arrested, given local ordinance citations and released to the custody of their parents.
A secondary incident involved mall security trying to apprehend three subjects who ran from the scene toward the food court. The three subjects ran into the Things Remembered gift store. During the fracas inside the store, several items, including some glass snow globes were smashed.
One of the three, a 15-year-old boy, reportedly charged a mall security guard, who sprayed pepper spray at him to disable him. The boy was also cited for disorderly conduct.
Four others taken into custody by police at the scene were released without being charged. It was determined that they had been fleeing the scene out of fear for their safety.
Mall officials decided to close the mall about 6:30 p.m., according to mall General Manager Harvey Ahitow. It took a little more than an hour to clear the shopping center of patrons.
“We talked about re-opening, but it was close to 8 p.m. and we decided it was too late to re-open,” Ahitow said.
The movie theaters were not closed because of the incident, he said.
“In my opinion, we did the right thing in closing the mall when we did because these things can escalate,” Ahitow said. “We had some retailers who were upset, but if something worse had happened, we’d be having a different conversation.”
Dec. 26 turned out to be a particularly busy day at North Riverside Park Mall, which was not a surprise, according to Ahitow.
“There are a couple of days a year when we do get an inordinate amount of kids hanging out,” he said. “The 26th of December is one of those days. Some are shopping, some are just hanging out.”
In 2013, in order to limit such incidents involving youths, the mall instituted a youth escort policy on weekend nights after 6 p.m. Anyone under the age of 18 has to be escorted by an adult in order to be admitted entry to the mall.
But there were so many people at the mall on Dec. 26, said Ahitow, mall security was unable to keep ahead of the crowd of youths despite public address announcements about the escort policy, a beefed-up mall security presence and a North Riverside Police detail.
“[Security] was enforcing to the best of their ability the youth escort policy,” said Ahitow, “but they just couldn’t control everyone coming in.”
The trouble started, according to the police report, about 6:15 p.m. outside the Top Brand clothing store on the mall’s second level. Initial reports also indicated there was gunfire involved. However, according to police, that noise turned out to be the breaking snow globes at Things Remembered.
North Riverside police said the day-after-Christmas incident was much smaller in scale than a melee that closed the mall, injured a police officer and ended in seven arrests on Dec. 26, 2006.
“That year, we decided to close down the mall,” said Ehrenberg. “This time, it was the mall’s decision to shut it down and get the crowds out.”
Ahitow said the mall’s youth escort policy, instituted in May 2013, has made a difference in limiting the number of incidents involving youths at the mall.
“The escort policy has absolutely made a huge difference in the environment of the shopping center,” Ahitow said. “We just don’t want inordinate numbers of kids hanging out in the property anymore. They got that message loud and clear.”