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After South Shore Plaza shooting, mall workers demand greater safety measures

The exterior of Target and Nordstrom is seen a day after a shooting took place inside the South Shore Plaza.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

BRAINTREE — Less than a day after a man was shot inside South Shore Plaza, shaken mall employees returned to work Sunday as police continued their investigation into what caused the violence.

The 26-year-old man remained hospitalized in Boston Sunday and no arrests had been made, according to David Traub, a spokesman for the Norfolk district attorney’s office.

Authorities said Saturday that the victim, who was not identified, was in grave condition, and he had not improved Sunday, according to Traub.

The shooting, which was at least the third time gunfire erupted at the mall since 2017, left many employees nervous about returning to work only hours after the traumatic event.

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“We are all concerned here,” said Sorangel Ceballos, a manager at G by Guess. “I’m afraid something like that will happen at my store.”

The mall was forced into lockdown after the shooting Saturday, and videos posted on social media showed frightened shoppers running from exits or taking refuge inside the building. Nearby residents were ordered to shelter in place.

Traub said Sunday that investigators remained “in the field,” including in the vicinity of the plaza.

The shooting appeared to be targeted, Braintree Police Deputy Chief Tim Cohoon told reporters Saturday. The suspect pulled out a gun and shot the victim during an encounter inside the mall before fleeing, he said.

Ceballos said Sunday that she was among 16 employees and customers inside her store when the shooting occurred. One of her associates quickly locked the front door, she said, and they all huddled inside a back room for the better part of an hour until police escorted them out.

She described a nerve-wracking wait before officials said the mall was safe: a pregnant woman cried, while another worker suffered a panic attack. They were able to lock up and leave about 4 p.m.

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But despite the violence that had erupted in the mall Saturday, Ceballos said she saw little evidence of any safeguards in place Sunday.

“Today, I came into work, and it felt like any other day,” she said. “I wish they would come up with some ideas to make employees and customers feel safer, since this is not the first time this has happened.”

Less than a day after gunshots rang out, a steady stream of patrons returned to the shopping plaza, some saying they did not fear for their safety despite the shooting.

Uniformed security guards who appeared to be unarmed paced around the mall and police cruisers could be seen circling the complex’s maze of parking lots.

Some employees were back on the job with some hesitation Sunday after witnessing what they described as a desperate stampede to escape the mall.

“I’m a little shaken up, and I have to say I don’t want to be here, after everything that has happened here.” said Breanna Hall, a shift manager at Nordstrom’s Ebar who was working when the mall went into lockdown.

Hall had been at the coffee bar with two other employees when she said she heard about six gunshots sometime between 2:30 and 3 p.m. At first, she said, she wasn’t sure what the booming noise was. But then she saw people dashing toward exits and heard screams of “he has a gun!” and “he shot him!”

“It was really terrifying,” she said. “Just a surreal thing once I realized what was happening, and I think we were all in shock. We just locked ourselves in the back and hoped.”

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Hall and her fellow employees escaped into the parking lot through an emergency exit.

Among the shoppers who returned to the mall Sunday were Fiona Healey and Sara Essaoui, who had made the trip from Marshfield and Framingham respectively. As they sat in chairs outside the Forever 21 store, they said they were regulars at the mall and had never felt threatened there.

“We feel safe, and we sort of figured it would be safer today than any other day because of the heightened security after an event like that,” said Healey. “It’s tragic, really sad. But I don’t think people need to be frightened away.”

An employee at Nordstrom, who declined to give her name because she said employees there had been instructed not to speak with the press, said she was working when the shots rang out, but did not hesitate to return Sunday.

“Honestly, it doesn’t faze me anymore,” she said. “It’s always a targeted attack. There was a little concern that the bullets could ricochet into the store, but for me and the people who have worked here awhile, it’s not as frightening anymore.”

Saturday’s shooting was at least the third time since 2017 that gunfire has rang out at the mall.

In February 2017, an altercation between two gang members inside the Macy’s shoe department led to a shooting, Braintree police said at the time. No one was injured, but the gunfire caused shoppers and store employees to run for the building’s exits, while heavily armed police conducted a store-by-store search of the mall.

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Michael Spence of Quincy was charged in the shooting, and in 2019, he pleaded guilty to charges including armed assault to murder. He received a five- to six-year prison sentence, officials said at the time.

More than three years later, a 15-year-old girl was shot and wounded in a July 2020 shooting at the mall. Police said she was an innocent bystander when Jose Rodriguez opened fire following a brawl between two groups at an Expressions store in the building’s Nordstrom wing.

Rodriguez, 22, of Boston, received an eight-year prison sentence earlier this month after pleading to several charges, including armed assault to murder, according to the Norfolk district attorney’s office.

Braintree Mayor Charles Kokoros, who also spoke to reporters Saturday, said the gun violence was unacceptable and that officials would be working with the mall to “come up with solutions to these problems.”

“This is a place that people should be able to go [to] and shop safely and we should not have gunshots being fired while people are out shopping and enjoying a Saturday,” Kokoros said.

Globe correspondent Nick Stoico contributed to this report.


John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com. Andrew Brinker can be reached at andrew.brinker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @andrewnbrinker.