Police: Mall found to be 'safe and secure'

News-DemocratJanuary 17, 2014 

— Police bomb dogs from multiple agencies spent more than four hours searching St. Clair Square on Thursday following a bomb threat that forced the evacuation of the mall.

The mall was declared "safe and secure" at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, according to Fairview Heights Police Lt. Mike Hoguet. "No bombs were found," he said.

Fairview Heights police responded at 3:44 p.m. to a phone call of a bomb threat at St. Clair Square. The call came into the Fairview Heights police station, and the caller stated he had left multiple devices inside the mall, Hoguet said.

Fairview Heights police immediately notified mall administration to begin evacuating patrons and workers. Hoguet said the mall was completely evacuated in just 10 minutes. Fairview Fire Department assisted the police.

Following the evacuation, police bomb dogs were brought in to conduct a thorough search of the mall, which has four major stores, 140 specialty stores and 10 restaurants. Police dogs from the U.S. Marshals Service, St. Clair County Sheriff's Department, Scott Air Force Base and the Security of State Police searched the mall for 4 1/2 hours Thursday night, Hoguet said.

"We are glad there was no one hurt in the evacuation," he said, "and we're glad to find out no bombs were found."

The public was asked to avoid the mall area as police worked to secure the mall. The mall parking lot was nearly empty Thursday evening and police were blocking all the entrances to the mall. The mall will reopen Friday morning, Hoguet said.

Fairview Heights police are working with the FBI to investigate who called in the threat.

A representative of CBL & Associates Properties, the company that owns St. Clair Square, could not be reached for comment.

Zumiez employee Sean Hamilton said he received a call from mall security who told him to close his gates and exit the mall immediately.

"At first, I thought it was a drill," he said. "Then everyone was leaving; everyone was running and screaming. Security guards were just running around. It was kind of chaotic."

Jordin Goldsberry, 20, of Coulterville, was shopping at the mall Thursday afternoon during her break between classes at Southwestern Illinois College in Belleville when she was told to head toward an exit as patrons and workers were evacuated.

"At first, I was frantic, because I didn't know where the exits were," she said. "We all went outside, and some people were waiting for the all clear. No one knew what was going on."

Then Goldsberry said a mall employee came out and informed them it was bomb threat and to leave the mall parking lot.

The incident won't keep Goldsberry from shopping at the mall. "It happens everywhere," she said. "You just have to be aware of your surroundings. I'm not going to stop shopping at the mall."

Fairview Heights police continue to investigate leads in an attempt to identify and locate the caller. Anyone with information regarding this incident is asked to contact the police department at 489-2130.

Reporter Beth Hundsdorfer contributed to this article. Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 618-239-2562 or jforsythe1@bnd.com. Contact reporter Maria Hasenstab at mhasenstab@bnd.com or 618-239-2460.

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