Man carrying umbrella triggers Va. mall manhunt

"It definitely was an assault rifle," the guard said. Dozens swarmed and evacuated the mall during a failed 10-hour search

By Amanda Codispoti
The Roanoke Times

ROANOKE, Va. — Both 911 calls reporting a man with a rifle at Valley View Mall in Roanoke were from security officers at the retail complex — one relaying a secondhand report, the other watching a 40-minute-old surveillance video, according to emergency call recordings. The first call, from a mall guard at 5:05 p.m. Monday, reported that another mall worker had seen a man with "a big assault rifle."

The second call, at 5:37 p.m., was from a Macy's loss prevention detective, who breathlessly told a police dispatcher, "It definitely was an assault rifle." The calls sent dozens of city and state police swarming the mall and prompted an evacuation and a failed 10-hour search of the region's largest shopping complex.

The man who was subject of the hunt came forward Tuesday and showed a city detective the black umbrella he had been carrying against Monday's predicted rain. Police withheld his name. The city emergency call center released the two 911 recordings Wednesday. Police originally said three people — two shoppers and a mall employee — had called 911. There was no explanation for the discrepancy.

The first call came at 5:07 p.m. from a Valley View security officer, who tried to exchange pleasantries with the emergency dispatcher and didn't mention the reported gunman until 20 seconds into the call.

"I just received a call from a tenant, from Buffalo Wild Wings, that there's an African-American male with a yellow jacket that just went into Macy's with a big assault rifle," the mall security officer said.

At 5:37 p.m., the Macy's loss prevention detective called 911. In an excited voice, she reported store security video showed the man at 4:57 p.m. walking out of the store and into the mall past Foot Locker.

"He still had his gun in his left hand," the Macy's worker said. She described the man's height, weight and clothing. She said she thought he was wearing a doo-rag. "It's hard to tell because of the video," the woman told the dispatcher. She had no doubt about the gun.

"It definitely was an assault rifle," she said. Roanoke police reviewed the video, showing a man carrying a long, black object, and decided to evacuate hundreds of shoppers and employees. About 40 heavily armed city and state police officers searched the retail complex until 3 a.m. Tuesday. Police and mall management said they treat "man with gun" reports as priority emergencies and acted appropriately. Valley View Mall general manager Louise Dudley did not return a phone message Wednesday.

Managers at Macy's and Buffalo Wild Wings wouldn't comment.

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