Wauwatosa West Students Working at Mayfair Mall Experience Shooting

Wauwatosa+West+seniors+Shannon+Linehan+and+Olivia+Bree+stand+outside+of+Mayfair+Mall+after+sheltering+in+the+Offline+store+and+being+escorted+out+by+law+enforcement+following+a+shooting+on+Nov.+20%2C+2020+during+their+shifts.

Photo Submitted by Olivia Bree

Wauwatosa West seniors Shannon Linehan and Olivia Bree stand outside of Mayfair Mall after sheltering in the Offline store and being escorted out by law enforcement following a shooting on Nov. 20, 2020 during their shifts.

By Sara Stanislawski, Wauwatosa East and West High Schools

Wauwatosa West senior Shannon Linehan stood counting customers for social distancing guidelines outside of the Offline store at Mayfair Mall when she first heard gunshots on Friday, Nov. 20. 2020.

“I heard the first three gunshots and I was like, there’s no way that was a gun,” Linehan said. “I heard the next like three or four shots and looked up and I started to see just a massive amount of people running towards my store in the opposite direction of Macy’s.”

According to a press release from the Wauwatosa Police Department, the shooting injuring 8 people at approximately 2:50 p.m. on Nov. 20 came after an altercation involving the 15-year-old shooter outside of Macy’s on the lower level of the mall.

Linehan, who typically works at the Aerie store, was covering a coworker’s shift at the Offline store. On the day of the shooting, she was working alongside Wauwatosa West senior Olivia Bree.

After ushering two customers standing outside the store inside, Linehan said she shut and locked the door to the store and told her coworkers about the shooting.

Bree then led the customers into the back storage room of the store after realizing there was an active shooter.

“At that moment I ran into the back storage room with 5 customers. As I was in the back with them I began comforting them,” Bree said.

After Bree’s other coworkers, including Linehan, came into the back room, they were unable to lock the room’s door.

“Then we went to the back room and barricaded ourselves behind a door that wouldn’t lock with six boxes of yoga mats,” Linehan said.

Linehan and Bree remained in the back room of the store along with customers and other coworkers for approximately 4 hours until they were escorted out by law enforcement clearing each store.

“As an employee, I find responsibility over my customers and their safety,” Bree said. “Because of that, my first initial reaction was to comfort the 5 customers we sheltered. I began calming them down and telling them everything was going to be ok.”

Wauwatosa West junior Jami Timmons working at the Journeys store in Mayfair at the time of the shooting also sheltered in a back storage room.

Timmons was stocking in the storage room when she first heard the gunshots.

“I was just really confused but I didn’t think anything of it,” Timmons said.

A coworker then informed Timmons of the active shooter.

“I’m not shocked that anybody did it because we’re in Mayfair, we’re right by Milwaukee and even like in Tosa, it’s not shocking to me,” Timmons said.

While sheltering in the back storage room, Timmons’s manager suggested they finish stocking a recent shipment of shoes in the back room.

“It was just going by so slow and we’re just kind of not doing anything,” Timmons said. “So we got done with that [stocking] and then we just sat there.”

Timmons and her coworkers waited in the back room of the store for approximately an hour and a half until their store was cleared and they were escorted out by law enforcement.

Linehan said communication from security with employees was limited while law enforcement cleared each store.

“My manager got a few texts from security but it was like really bad communication,” Linehan said. “And we just watched the news to learn more.”

Even with the stress of being in the mall with the location of the shooter unknown at the time, Linehan said one of the most difficult parts of the situation was responding to family and friends who contacted her, and explaining that the shooter was not active.

“My aunt took initiative to text my entire family and say that Shannon is in the mall with an active shooter. So then my family was freaking out and stuff and it was just a lot of me trying to calm people down,” Linehan said.

Bree also faced challenges communicating with her family members. With her phone at 1% battery, she texted her parents about the active shooter and that her phone was close to dying.

“One minute after, I got a call from my dad that I had to decline in fear that my phone would die and I couldn’t update them,” Bree said. “All that was going through my mind was ‘I hope my parents know I’m safe. I hope they aren’t freaking out. I’m going to stay safe for them.’”

Wauwatosa West senior Grace Lessila was scheduled to work afterschool at AMC Theatres at Mayfair at 4 p.m. on Nov. 20, but learned of the shooting when answering a phone call from her manager shortly after it occured.

Lessila answered the call in the hallway during her 7th hour class when she serves as a teacher’s assistant. She returned to the classroom shocked.

“I walked back into class and I was shaking so bad. I know that other people were there, but just knowing that I would have been there if it would have happened an hour later, that really freaked me out,” Lessila said.

Shortly after Lessila received the call, Wauwatosa West Associate Principal Matt Byers announced over the school’s PA system for teachers to hold their students after the bell. Wauwatosa Police ordered an immediate lockdown of Wauwatosa West, Whitman Middle School, and Eisenhower Elementary School all within 1 mile of Mayfair.

After sheltering in the backroom of the Offline store for hours, Linehan said being escorted out of the store by law enforcement “was honestly the scariest part.”

“SWAT made us come out with our hands up, and we could hear them in the store next to us before they came to evacuate us out,” Linehan said.

Like other student employees working at Mayfair, Linehan and Bree said they did not receive any official job training for what to do in this situation. Instead, Bree acted based on her own training.

“Due to how common shootings happen, and how immune I have grown to shooter drills in my high school and breaking news reports of shooters on my TV, I have over the years adapted my own ‘training’ for an event like this,” Bree said. “It’s sad that I knew exactly what to do because I had to think about it that much and understand that it very well could happen to me, to which it did.”

After the mall was closed for further investigation on Saturday, Nov. 21, the mall reopened Sunday morning, Nov. 22.

Lessila returned to work on the Sunday following the shooting, but was sent home early.

“They sent me home around like six because we got maybe like five people. It was insane,” Lesilia said.

Since the shooting, Bree says that working at Mayfair has been different.

“My first day back was so odd. I knew I was safe, because now the mall was infested with security around every corner, but I felt different. Walking into the doors of Mayfair, I felt like I shouldn’t be there,” Bree said. “I also noticed myself consistently looking around and being much more aware of my surroundings at work now.”

Linehan says that customers at Mayfair should be considerate to employees given the incident.

“Just be nice to your sales associates and people working in the mall during the holidays because they’ve gone through a lot recently and a lot of people are quitting their jobs at the mall right now,” Linehan said.

Lessila turned in her two week’s notice on the Sunday she returned to work due to safety concerns from her parents.

“They already didn’t really want me working there anyways, and then they heard about the shooting and then they really didn’t want me working there anymore,” Lessila said.

Since her last day working at Mayfair on Sunday, Dec. 6, Lessila has decided to return to her job at AMC because of security changes the mall has made.

“My parents are letting me go back actually because they really upped the security,” Lessila said. “They have guns sniffing dogs now at Mayfair and we have our own separate security in the theater now. You can tell they’re definitely taking it seriously.”

A press release from Brookfield Properties, the real estate company managing the Mayfair property, announced on Dec. 2 that the mall implemented the Vapor Wake Public Safety Canine Detection Program (VWK9) which uses trained canines to “patrol the shopping center to detect firearms alongside security officers.”

In the release, Mayfair Mall General Manager Chris Jaeger said, “Generations have grown up shopping here and thousands of retail associates rely on Mayfair for their employment. The VWK9 program demonstrates our ongoing commitment to provide a safe, peaceful and inclusive environment for everyone.”

Wauwatosa Police Department Chief Barry Weber said that the police department supports the security measure.

“The safety of all visitors and employees of Mayfair is important to the Wauwatosa Police Department,” Weber said in the release. “We support this innovative detection approach and will continue supporting the shopping center’s safety needs to help enforce a safe, family-friendly shopping environment.”

Even with the traumatic circumstances, Bree finds that she has developed stronger relationships with her coworkers.

“I feel a much tighter connection and appreciation for my coworkers now, and I feel that those feelings are reciprocated, especially the employees I was with in the storage room,” Bree said. “They consistently talk to me and I have grown much closer with them since the event.”

Bree acknowledges that although the shooting was tragic, it has encouraged her to realize the more important things in life.

Bree says, “This whole event, while tragic, has taught me to really appreciate every moment and to show more love to the people I care about. I have realized that I go on my phone less now and instead spend that time to get to know my family and friends better, and I encourage all students and customers to learn from my experience and do that as well.”

This story was originally published on The Tosa Compass on December 15, 2020.