After hearing gunfire outside the Northwoods Mall, one caller thought he saw two young men involved in the shooting go inside.
Another person who dialed 911 said the suspects' faces were covered with their shirts as they ran toward the entrance of The King Street Grille.
"I heard pop-pop-pop," a caller said. "The fella wrecked his car in the parking lot. Two black males took off running into the mall or toward the mall. And this guy's shot up bad."
Officers took the 15- and 16-year-old suspects into custody Tuesday.
The 911 callers' sightings the day before had sparked an hours-long search inside the North Charleston mall, but SWAT teams from two police agencies flushed out no gunmen. It was a safety effort that industry experts and officials said is necessary in an age of mass shootings that have targeted shopping centers nationwide.
"Unfortunately, that's the time that we live in," said Jesse Tron, spokesman for the New York City-based International Council of Shopping Centers. "I don't think you can be overly cautious. Having law enforcement ... make sure this person is not still at large in the mall, that's the appropriate response."
Davin Jerome Aiken of Alston Avenue, 20, who was shot three times near the Books-A-Million entrance, remained Tuesday at Medical University Hospital. Officials there said they couldn't provide an update on his condition, which was said to be serious Monday.
The two teenage suspects were found late Tuesday afternoon, North Charleston Police Department spokesman Spencer Pryor said. The teens were identified in an incident report only as "B.J." and "Gooch." It was not known if they would face charges as adults.
'Get the kids'
Beyond Aiken's own account, the police did not release further information about what led to the shooting.
Aiken went to the mall to pick up someone he knew around noon, he told detectives. But the meeting didn't go well.
"An argument ensued, and he heard three gunshots," the police report stated. "He realized he was hit, then struck a vehicle that was parked."
Aiken had seen gun violence in the past.
He and three other young men were accused in January 2013 of firing six bullets into a hotel room not far from the mall. A lingering dispute between Aiken and his former girlfriend might have prompted the outburst, incident reports stated.
Soon after the shooting, officers stopped Aiken's Mitsubishi Montero SUV. Inside, they reported finding three pistols and unspent .380-caliber rounds similar to the shell casings found at the scene. Aiken told the officers that he was there but hadn't fired a gun.
He spent less than a month behind bars before posting bail. His four counts of attempted murder are still pending, 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said Tuesday.
After Aiken was shot Monday, four visitors at the Northwoods Mall dialed 911.
Recordings of their calls were released Tuesday in response to The Post and Courier's request under the S.C. Freedom of Information Act. They depicted what started the authorities' efforts to corral the suspects outside and inside the busy shopping center that houses 140 stores and restaurants.
The first caller urged Aiken to stay still and asked who had shot him.
"B.J.," Aiken said.
"I don't know if he's going to make it," the caller told a dispatcher. "He's shot all to hell."
The caller found a pistol resting on the front seat of Aiken's Mitsubishi. It looked like a Smith & Wesson, the man said.
"When they jumped out, they must have dropped it," he said. "His car's sitting here running."
Other callers talked about leaving.
"You go back and get the kids," a man is heard saying in one call.
From inside a store, a woman told a dispatcher that the gunshots had sent customers scattering away from the scene about 50 yards from the Books-A-Million entrance.
"I am trying to step away from the window," the woman said. "Two witnesses ... rushed inside."
'Just makes sense'
Mall security guards were the first to show up. Police officers soon followed.
The police presence steadily built throughout the afternoon.
The mall was evacuated, though some people "sheltered" inside some stores, Pryor said. That was left up to the workers and customers, he said.
The ordeal, which included searches by police and sheriff's SWAT teams, closed the mall for five hours. It reopened late that afternoon to what a mall official called steady traffic.
But what some shoppers saw as an inconvenience was part of a standard response, said Barb Faucette, vice president for corporate marketing at CBL & Associates Properties, which owns the center.
"We outline what to do for responding to threats or dangerous situations," Faucette said. "It just makes sense to keep our tenants educated. The Police Department works side by side with us."
How authorities and employees react to shootings at malls has changed after several deadly episodes in recent years.
In the country's deadliest shooting at a shopping center, nine people were killed in December 2007 at the Westroads Mall in Omaha, Neb. Two employees inside Maryland's The Mall in Columbia were fatally shot in January before their killer turned the gun on himself.
In North Charleston, the police have procedures for responding such situations, but talking about the efforts "would compromise security and operational efforts," Pryor said.
Mall owners nationwide also have devised strategies, hired more security guards and installed more surveillance cameras because of the violence.
So when employees learned of the situation at the Northwoods Mall, they already knew what to do, and the police worked with them to ensure people's safety, Faucette said.
Tenants and their workers are trained according to the mall's "red book," which contains policies for reacting to various threats like hurricanes and shootings, Faucette said. She also declined to discuss the details of those plans or what workers did Monday.
But Tron, the industry group official, said the response by malls and police agencies vary widely based on the circumstances.
"In this scenario, there's danger because you have a suspect who is armed," he said. "They're probably not looking to shoot up the building, but they might do certain things to avoid getting caught."
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.
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