COLUMBUS, Ga. – The community is still in shock after a shooting at a popular Columbus mall turned deadly over the weekend. In light of the scare, Peachtree Mall and the city of Columbus are working to make the shopping experience safer.
Many people expressed outrage about the shooting. Bertha Averett is one of many who wants to make sure the mall and the city are doing all they can to provide more safety and security for shoppers. Averett says she and her seven-year-old granddaughter were in the mall about an hour and a half before the shooting.Averett says she felt safe because she saw a security guard and a police officer as she entered the mall.
“We passed the location where the tragedy was at least three times,” Averett said. “And we never felt anything.”
But as soon as she and her daughter left the mall, tragedy struck. Anthony Meredith was shot several times in the food court area Saturday. One day later, Columbus Police named Xzavaien Jones as a murder suspect in connection with the shooting. This marks the second shooting at Peachtree Mall in the span of one month. This shooting also bears significance because this marks Columbus’s fifth murder of 2016.
“It was around innocent people that had nothing to do with what was going on between these two individuals,” Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said. “And that’s what’s so reckless about it all.”
Tomlinson says because the mall is a private business, the city can only enforce local ordinances and licensing regulations. However, the city would have influence in making possible suggestions for the mall to follow. The mayor mentioned that she, Columbus Police Chief Ricky Boren, and Peachtree Mall are getting together to discuss safety measures.
In a statement to News 3, General Manager Onassis Burress talks about how the mall will handle the shooting:
“The safety and well-being of our visitors and employees are always our top priorities, not just when tragedies occur. Peachtree Mall has a customized public safety program that entails different measures for various scenarios to include the hiring of off-duty police officers. Some of the measures are visible to our shoppers, like our trained security team and relationships with local law enforcement; other measures are not as visible. We constantly review and evaluate our security procedures to ensure the safety and well-being of everyone who walks through our doors. We do not discuss our public safety measures because by doing so would compromise the integrity of the security program. But I want to emphasize, safety and security are our priorities every day.”
“In years past, the mall used off-duty police officers to bolster security,” Tomlinson said. “They may want to think about that again.”
Only off-duty officers would be able to assist in mall security efforts because the city solely pays for the officers to perform public duties. However, any private business can request off-duty police officers. In that package, they would get the officer’s security services, his uniform and a patrol vehicle. And while some people say concealed carriers could help prevent future incidents like the one that happened Saturday at the mall, Mayor Tomlinson says people should feel safe in relying on CPD’s expertise and experience.
“People who have not been trained, even if they go to the range periodically, even if they have a license they’ve not been so trained to identify who the shooter is,” the mayor explains. “They run a very high risk of shooting an innocent person.”
For Bertha Averett, despite several people vowing not to return to the mall, she is just waiting for the right timing.
“I will go back to the mall…don’t know when,” Averett expressed.