Doyel: Silent texts, pain in the Greenwood mall parking lot as families await answers
GREENWOOD – Their son is inside the Greenwood Park Mall, and he’s not responding to text messages. There are dozens of police cars and ambulances outside the mall, with lights flashing and more still arriving, and their son isn’t answering his phone. There was an active shooter inside the mall, perhaps still is – so many rumors out here in the parking lot, so few facts – and their son is inside. Not answering. Not responding.
“When I text him, he always texts right back,” Ricky Marqua is telling me, almost pleading with me, in the parking lot closest to the entrance to Dick’s Sporting Goods and the food court, ground zero for families and gawkers and rumors and anxiety. How hectic is it out here? Ricky and Katrina are telling me about their son, how he’s not answering, and I'm responding with my heart, not my head.
You wanted a journalist here in the parking lot? Sorry. What you got today, at least from me, was a dad.
“I’m sure he’s fine,” I tell them, forgetting to ask their son’s name, or where he works.
“I hope so,” Katrina is telling me. “This is a nightmare.”
It is, a national nightmare that has come to the southside 15 months after it visited a FedEx Ground facility near the airport, where eight were killed in April 2021. That was less than three years after this nightmare visited Noblesville West Middle School, where science teacher Jason Seaman tackled a kid after he shot one classmate, but before the kid could shoot anyone else. Jason Seaman is a hero.
Outside the Greenwood Park Mall, in the parking lot where rain is falling and parents are pacing and several children are crying, we’re hoping there was a hero inside the mall. We don’t know much, but we know this: There was a villain in there. Maybe still is. Lots of rumors out here. Lots of rain, too, but not many facts. And no comfort.
'Do you have anyone still inside?'
A middle-aged man in a black pullover with CHAPLAIN written in big yellow letters is walking the parking lot, going from group to group, asking gently, “Do you have anyone still inside?” He’s accompanied by another man of the cloth, this gentleman slightly older, a white clerical collar peeking out from his rain jacket.
The chaplain is talking to Ricky and Katrina Marqua, and then he’s approaching a nearby group of four people – a couple and their two daughters – and asking, “Do you have anyone still inside?”
Greenwood Park Mall shooting:4 dead, including gunman armed with rifle, magazines
No, the man tells him, “but all my kids’ stuff is inside. I just spent like $500 bucks.” When the chaplain walks away, finding an anxious couple near their car – “Do you have anyone still inside?” – I approach the family of four and ask if I just heard that right. Did you rush out so fast, you left your purchases inside?
The older of the two girls, a teenager named Kaya – I didn’t ask for her last name, and not because I forgot; I didn’t have the heart to do it – tells me they were eating in the food court when she heard the shooting. Well, now she knows it was a shooting. At first she thought it was something else. Anything else.
“I thought maybe it was the intercom,” Kaya’s saying. “It sound like someone dropped a phone. Pop!”
Within moments, as the popping continued, Kaya and her family understood what was happening. So did security officials inside the mall who were urging everyone outside and right now. No time to go back for your bag. Now.
“It’s under the table,” Kaya says of the bag.
“I’m sure you’ll get it eventually,” I tell Kaya, forgetting to ask what she bought or where she got it from.
Maybe because I’m overhearing another teenage girl in the parking lot – never did get her name – telling officers she was eating at the Pepper Palace when she heard a pop, then another, “then, like, 10 or 12,” before she dived under a table.
There was chaos inside the Greenwood Park Mall on Sunday evening, and it’s not exactly soothing outside. As for me, I live a half-mile from the mall, so close I could hear the sirens from my deck. I grabbed my notebook and told my son I was heading to the mall.
My son was supposed to be there Sunday, actually. He works at a clothing store down the hall from the food court. My son was lucky, it turns out, to have finally caught COVID-19.
We are not OK
Word is starting to spread in the parking lot: It’s over. We’re hearing two people have been killed, but that’s not true. Four people have been killed, it turns out, including the shooter.
We’re getting the story wrong outside because police aren’t telling us anything, but folks out here seem to understand. If anybody was upset about the lack of information coming our way, I didn’t hear it. And I heard a lot of things, walking that parking lot.
I heard an announcement from Dave & Buster’s over the loudspeaker, asking customers to exit through the nearest mall entrance, then saw a Macy’s employee frantically asking a police officer if she can go back inside.
“I have employees in there,” she pleads but is told, nicely but firmly: Nobody is going back inside.
I heard a man telling the chaplain that his wife’s purse is inside, and her purse has medication for her and their son. The man’s name is Craig. He’s telling me it’s nothing urgent, not like insulin or anything.
“Just medicine for anxiety,” he says.
Anxiety medication sounds urgent to me right now, probably because mine is at home, a half-mile away. I’ll be taking it as soon as I get there.
Before I can leave, an officer is asking if I was inside during the shooting. No, I tell him, but my son works in there. I don’t mean it that way – he’s not in there right now – but the officer is thinking more clearly than I am, and calmly gives me information he thinks I need.
“We’re about to get all the people inside and put them on buses,” he tells me. “You know where the Ashley’s Furniture store is?”
I’m nodding, absently.
“We’re taking them there. You might want to head that way.”
Honestly, I want to head home and hug my son. Five days ago when he told me he had COVID, that was discouraging. We’re both vaccinated, so it wasn’t scary, just discouraging. Only now, five days later, with our national nightmare coming to the Greenwood Park Mall, down the hall from the clothes store where he was supposed to work Sunday, I’m thrilled he has COVID. Thrilled he’s home.
Ricky and Katrina’s son? I don’t know. I hope he was home later Sunday night. I hope it’s true, what I was telling them, that I’m sure their son is fine. Police officers, I’m telling them, tend to shut down communication in the immediate aftermath of an active shooter, not wanting a flurry of misinformation from confused or even hysterical witnesses to reach the outside world and cause unnecessary panic.
That last part – about communication being shut down after a shooting – I know for a fact. I’ve read a lot about active shootings in America. I’ve read too much.
Three of them in four years in greater Indianapolis alone. Why this keeps happening is a matter of debate, but I’m not interested in that now, here in the parking lot.
For now I need to get home to my son, grateful he called in sick on Sunday, grateful he’s not here in the parking lot to see parents waiting for a phone call from a son inside, to hear kids crying, to watch ambulances arriving. Grateful also to the clergy and police officers in the parking lot, going from group to group, person to person, asking if we’re OK.
We are not OK. We are watching police officers go back inside the mall, wearing bulletproof vests and carrying what looks to be AR-15-type guns. Nobody is OK. But we know what the clergy and the kindly officers are doing when they ask, so this is what people outside the Greenwood Park Mall, including myself, kept saying:
“We’re OK. Thank you for being here.”
Last I saw of Ricky and Katrina Marqua, they were still standing outside the entrance to the food court, staring at Ricky’s phone, wondering why the damn thing won’t ring.