Man in custody following standoff at Arizona mall

January 5, 2011 8:45:33 PM PST
A shootout at an upscale shopping center in suburban Phoenix sent shoppers fleeing and prompted a mall lockdown Wednesday as the suspect who had exchanged gunfire with officers holed up in a fast food restaurant, authorities said.

The suspect surrendered Wednesday afternoon and no injuries were reported, officials said.

Hours after the noon-hour parking lot gunbattle, authorities reopened the Chandler Fashion Center following a search that had been made to confirm only one suspect was involved in both the shooting and the standoff.

"Thankfully, nobody was shot and nobody got hurt," Chandler police Sgt. Joe Favazzo said.

The mall reopened at about 5 p.m. after police SWAT teams with dogs finished their search.

The first burst of gunfire erupted just outside an entrance to a Sears store when members of a U.S. Marshals Service fugitive task force confronted a man they believed to have committed several robberies in recent days in the suburbs east of Phoenix, Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman Bart Graves said. The task force included DPS and Chandler police officers.

The suspect the task force was tracking was at first believed to have been the same man who shot at DPS officers in Casa Grande, south of Phoenix, on Dec. 10, and was wounded by return fire, then mistakenly released from custody late last month.

However, authorities later determined the robbery suspect was not the same man. Police identified the man in custody as 27-year-old Adam Hernandez, who they say may have robbed a hotel south of the mall earlier Wednesday. Police did not immediately release any other information on Hernandez.

When the gunfire erupted outside the mall, shoppers and employees inside ran in all directions trying to get out of the way.

Minutes after the gunfight, the suspect entered a nearby Baja Fresh fast food restaurant, fired several shots and held off police for nearly three hours before surrendering, Chandler police said.

Police said at least two people were in the restaurant during the standoff and escaped injury, but authorities did not call them hostages.

Tuan Tang, a 27-year-old Iraq war veteran working at the mall food court, said security officers began calling for people to evacuate and he relied on his Army training to help usher customers outside.

"It helped me handle the situation and evacuate the people," Tang said.

Witness Katie Corbin, who was inside Chandler Fashion Center at the time of the midday shooting, told KTVK-TV that people went to the back of the Victoria's Secret store after shots were fired. The upscale shopping center includes a Banana Republic, Coach, Nordstrom and other stores.

She said the situation inside the mall was "scary."

Shoppers and employees of stores and restaurants waited outside the mall on a street, and state police officers blocked access as dozens of officers and three SWAT teams swarmed the area.

December Davis, a 22-year-old waitress at the Kona Grill inside the mall, said she and others were told to drop everything and exit the shopping center. People left without their purses, cell phones and other belongings.

Her experience showed the confusion patrons and workers faced as the ordeal unfolded.

"People said they killed somebody, that the guy was down, and then all of a sudden there was another suspect and he was blending in with the crowd. Then they made us evacuate more and we thought he was outside with us," Davis said as police searched the mall.

Tang said it was a routine day before the gunfire erupted.

"It was a slow day, everybody was shopping, and then all of a sudden shoppers started rushing out," Tang said. "And then mall security started telling people 'clear out,' so I did the same. I started clearing out people and yelling at them to move out of the area because there was a guy with a gun in the mall."

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