Cheektowaga Police officials say despite the chaos which unfolded during three fights Wednesday evening inside the Walden Galleria, there were no serious injuries and, contrary to reports and fears, no gunfire. Two people, including a minor, were charged following the brawl which put the popular mall on lockdown and drew several police agencies to the scene.
Police will increase their presence Thursday evening and, according to a statement released by the owner of Walden Galleria, will join increased mall security for the remainder of the holiday season.
Investigators are still piecing together the sequence of events that happened Wednesday night, but have determined so far that the nearly two dozen calls to police reporting violent youths were for the same three fights that occurred.
"Despite these altercations, no injuries were reported to CPD and no weapons were recovered," said Cheektowaga Police Chief David Zack. "In all, six juveniles were brought back to police headquarters and their parents called to retrieve them. One 18-year-old male was arrested for disorderly conduct and one juvenile was arrested for menacing."
The noise which led many to fear and report a possible gunshot or person possessing a gun was traced to a fallen sign.
Zack added that while one woman was caught on camera apparently stealing several handbags from one store during the commotion, reports of more widespread looting are not true.
The size of the crowd was typical of the day after Christmas in past years according to the police chief, who spoke of the problems involving many of the unsupervised minors within the complex.
"Certainly I think parenting playes into this, that you're just going to drop off your kid and leave them for hours on end," Zack said. "That's a component of all this. When you talk about how things get out of hand, you look at everything. Certainly unsupervised youth, many who appear to be young, maybe that is some parenting issue that needs to be addressed."
Several stores doing business within the Walden Galleria are members of the Cheektowaga Chamber of Commerce. Its executive director, Kristina Groff, told WBFO some of those members have expressed concerns for their business in light of the fights.
"One of the members I spoke with also mentioned that, unfortunately, the false reports that spread like wildfire on social media of gunshots fired were even more of a detriment and, certainly, put that fear into people," Groff said. "They’re hoping that that’s not going to impact people’s desire to return.”
Groff says her members did not discuss what, if any, plans by mall security or Cheektowaga Police might be put into place to prevent future disturbances at the mall, but she’ll be working with members on positive messaging to show that the mall is a safe place.
Pyramid Management, which owns Walden Galleria, issued a written statement Wednesday condemning the incident: "Safety is and remains our highest priority at Walden Galleria. The incidents that took place between disorderly youth acquaintances are absolutely unacceptable, incredibly disruptive and undermine the tireless efforts made by our security team, community partners and local law enforcement agencies to make Walden Galleria a year-round family friendly destination. We are cooperating fully and actively participating with the Cheektowaga Police department in the ongoing investigation and remain committed to providing a safe environment for our guests, employees and tenants.
"As a result of our ongoing discussions and dialogue with the Cheektowaga Police department, the following actions and will be implemented immediately at Walden Galleria:
• In cooperation with local law enforcement agencies, there will be an increased police and security presence through the remainder of the holiday season at Walden Galleria.
• In addition, Walden Galleria’s parental escort policy will be strictly enforced. Walden Galleria has a parental escort policy from 4:00pm until close on Friday and Saturday evenings. Guests under 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian 21 years of age or older. (Parental Escort Policy MB-18 does not apply to stores with exterior entrances)."
Pyramid will also reimburse Cheektowaga Police for overtime expenses stemming from Wednesday night's incident, it was announced.