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Shooting reverberates through East County

Courtney Balazic just wanted to buy a pair of earrings.

Instead, the Fairview woman ended up running for her life when gun fire erupted at Clackamas Town Center on Tuesday, Dec. 11, leaving three dead, including the shooter, and a teenage girl injured.

“It was so scary,” she said the day after while working behind the register at A Children’s Place in the Gresham Station Shopping Center.by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: MARA STINE - Courtney Balazic of Fairview rings up a purchase at A Children's Place in the Gresham Station Shopping Center one day after she and thousands of other shoppers ran from a masked shooter at Clackamas Town Center Tuesday, Dec. 11.

Jacob Tyler Roberts, 22, of Southeast Portland walked through Macy’s armed with a AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and wearing a load-bearing vest designed to hold large amounts of ammunition, said Sgt. Adam Phillips, Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office spokesman. Roberts also was wearing a hockey mask on his face.

He entered the food court in the middle of the mall, which was bustling with approximately 10,000 holiday shoppers. There he opened fire, killing Cindy Ann Yuille, 54, of Northeast Portland, and Steven Mathew Forsyth, 45, of West Linn.by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Sheriff's office spokesman Sgt. Adam Phillips named Jacob Tyler Roberts as the suspected gunman in tuesday's mall shooting. Cindy Yuille and Steve Forysth died at the scene: 15-year-old Kristina Shevchenko was wounded.

Roberts moved east toward the Macy’s Home Store and into a service stairwell. Then he moved to the mall’s lower level and continued east toward J.C. Penney.

During this time, a third victim — Kristina Shevchenko, 15 — was shot in the chest. She managed leave the mall near REI, where police immediately began to give her medical assistance. The girl has survived the attack and is being treated at Oregon Health & Science University.

Shoppers ran for cover. Santa Claus hit the ground. Mall employees ushered shoppers to back rooms and rear exits. Others hid in barricaded stores. Still others fled through exits leaving behind purses, strollers and even their clothes, as was the case for shoppers trying on clothes in dressing rooms when gunfire erupted.

Twenty-two minutes after the first 9-1-1 call came in, police found Roberts dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound near J.C. Penney.

The mall remained closed on Wednesday, Dec. 12, and Thursday, Dec. 13. When it reopens on Friday, Dec. 14, Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office deputies and mall personnel will perform additional patrols.by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Clackamas Town Center quickly went on lockdown after the shooting and remained closed on Wednesday and Thursday.

Gresham police are already doing additional walking and bike patrols at Gresham Station and other local shopping centers, as they do every holiday season to help combat car break-ins.

That is a comfort to Balazic, who after witnessing the mass shooting, reluctantly returned to her retail job at Gresham Station the next day. Knowing the police department is right behind the shopping center also is reassuring, Balazic said.

She was on her cell phone talking to her husband about buying a pair of earrings at Icing, a teen jewelry store close to the food court, when she heard a loud noise. “Did something fall?” she wondered. Then she heard it again and again. Panicked shoppers began running. “There’s somebody shooting!” she told her husband over the phone and ran.

“I have never run so fast in all my life and I hope to God I never have to again,” she said. “I could see the flash from the gun.”

Balazic ran out of the mall and to the safety of the parking lot. She’s still reeling from the experience, and dreaded going to work the next day. She works in a mall, in a store — the same setting the shooting took place in.

But if she stayed home, she’d end up watching every detail about the shooting unfold on the news. Instead, she opted to put her fear aside, and go to work.

“It’s been a good distraction,” she said. “I still am pretty shook up.”

She’s now nervous about being in any crowded settings, which means she’s done Christmas shopping. “The rest of it’s going to be done online,” she said.

And those earrings she was considering buying? In her mad dash for safety, she took them with her. “My husband is going to return them,” she said. “I’m not going back.”

The shooting did not deter Gresham residents from hitting local malls and shopping centers.

Ishmael Moro, a Gresham resident, headed into Best Buy in Gresham Station on Wednesday evening.

“It’s tragic,” he said of the shooting. “It’s the holiday season. There is a lot of pressure on a lot of people. But it doesn’t stop one from going out to shop. Because anything can happen anytime, anywhere — at home or out shopping.”

Marge Olson of Northeast Portland said the shooting weighed heavily on her heart and mind while shopping at Dress Barn.

“Right now I don’t feel afraid because they will have security,” Olson said of going to shopping malls. “But it’s certainly been on my mind. It’s very scary. It’s very sad. Good people have been taken.”

Carole McHara of Gresham is comfortable shopping at Gresham Station, partly because of its open design, which feels more like stand-alone shops instead of a traditional mall.

“I’m not sure I’d go into an enclosed mall,” she said. “I don’t think I’d go to Clackamas Town Center.”

Annalisa Merrill, manager of Dress Barn at Gresham Station, said she wasn’t afraid to come to work after the shooting.

“We have very good security,” she said, adding that shopping center security is beefing up patrols over the next few days. “I’ve always felt very safe.”

As for whether the shooting will have an effect on merchants, “I think we’ve been busier,” she said. “We were today.”

It could be that people who’d usually shop at Clackamas Town Center can’t because it’s closed in the wake of the shooting.

Merrill has heard that for every day Clackamas Town Center is closed, it loses an estimated $1 million in revenue.

Gresham Station employee Pam Wallace is worried about the financial impact the shooting will have on the town center and all malls.

“Financially it will be heartbreaking for all of those stores,” she said. “And you don’t know if people will be back.”

But the real heartbreak lies with the two families mourning the deaths of their loved one.

“It’s horrible, tragic,” she said, shaking her head in disbelief. “I can’t even imagine. You just don’t expect something like that to happen. It’s always somewhere else.”



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