Rabbi Shmuley Boteach — author, television personality and former Republican congressional candidate — was at the Garden State Mall with his family in his home state of New Jersey Monday night when a gunman fired multiple shots shortly before closing time.
Boteach described his terror upon discovering that his wife and one of his daughters were trapped inside the mall when it was placed on lockdown.
In a post published in The Jewish Press, Boteach said he and three of his nine children had just finished shopping at Best Buy shortly after 9:00 p.m. (There was no school scheduled for Tuesday due to statewide elections.)
He and his wife Debbie, who was with their daughter, had arranged to meet at closing time. As he put his 5-, 7- and 12-year-old children on a carousel near the entrance, mayhem broke out.
“Suddenly tens of people start running toward us screaming, ‘There’s a shooter. SHOOTER. Run. Get out.’ There is no need to think. I am not in shock but clear-headed,” he wrote.
He said he realized immediately that what was happening was the same scenario that’s played out so many times before, writing, “A crazy person is on a shooting rampage in a mall and this time we are not watching it on TV, we are not reading about it on the net. We are at the center of it.”
I take the three kids by the hands and make an immediate about face. We begin to run. The kids are in utter panic, absorbing what is happening. They are not crying. Yet. We make it to the parking lot and start running toward our car. I stop outside the car. I dial my wife whom I had spoken to just five minutes earlier. The call goes straight to voice mail. I call my daughter. Straight to voice mail. I am gripped by fear and terror that have I have rarely felt in my entire life.
He tried both numbers again with no success. He wrote:
Why won’t they answer? My God, my God, why won’t they answer? I pray to my Creator and beg Him for mercy. “This is my wife. This is my child. Please protect them.” Why won’t they answer? I put the kids in the car. I am outside on the phone. I call again. Mercy of mercies, my wife answers. She is trembling as she speaks. “There’s a shooter, Shmuley, right outside a store we’re in. The salesperson saw him. He was carrying an AK-47, holding it in the air. We heard about 6 shots. We’re terrified. Where are you? Get out. Get out of the mall. Are the kids OK?”
His wife said she was hiding in a stockroom with 10 other people, but that the only barrier was a glass door.
After many minutes, Boteach said, he was surprised that still no police had arrived. He expressed this in a call to 911.
Boteach is a close friend of newly-instated New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, whom he immediately texted in bold letters, “CORY THERE IS A SHOOTER IN THE GARDEN STATE MALL!!”
Booker’s senior adviser assured the rabbi he was on the phone with the police, and was informing them of those trapped inside, including Boteach’s wife, whom the adviser called.
Suddenly, shoppers in the parking lot began running and screaming, “Gunshots, gunshots.”
After hearing loud pops, Boteach got into the car and began driving in circles in an effort to keep the kids safe and not leave the mall to stay nearby his wife and daughter.
“I am calling my wife every minute, getting her to assure me she is OK and that her cell phone is not going to die. ‘Don’t leave me with no way to contact you and don’t leave where you are. And tell the people with you to speak softly.’ The children in the back of the car are crying. I am trying to assure them that their mother and sister are going to be fine. God is going to protect them. I tell them we have to pray. We recite Psalm 20 in Hebrew. We repeat it,” he recounted.
His wife and daughter maintained their hiding position for a while after the gunshots seemed to end. Eventually, police began to evacuate those inside as SWAT teams move about and helicopters hover overhead.
Booker phoned his wife to make sure she was safe. “Cory, ever the gentleman, tells my wife not to panic and he is so happy to hear she is OK. His warmth and caring comforts us both,” Boteach wrote.
All those still in the mall were told to move outside with their hands in the air, as the gunman was believed to be still at large.
Later, security officials discovered that the shooter, 20-year-old Richard Shoop, had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound and injured nobody else.
With heartfelt thanks, I begin reciting Psalm 91. “It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to the Most High.” I also think to myself how incredible and brave the police are. My wife and daughter are safe. It’s a miracle. Thank you, Oh Lord, for your kindness to me and my family, I say to myself. I will try and be a better person, a better servant of yours, Oh Lord. Thank you, Lord, for Your protection and goodness.
The family had a tearful reunion at a nearby supermarket. Though the harrowing experience ended well for the innocent shoppers, Boteach raised serious questions about the recent scourge of shootings.
“I am thinking to myself that America has gone crazy. This past Friday night, for Shabbat dinner, the main point of conversation of our guests was the terrible shooting in Los Angeles at LAX and the other shootings that week at schools. Now, we’re at the center of it. Could this really be happening,” he said. “How many more will die before America finally wakes up.”
Boteach’s full posting can be seen at The Jewish Press.