A Day I Will Never Forget


Elle Simek, Reporter

Dec. 23, 2021, a day that was supposed to be filled with joy and excitement, with Christmas Eve a day away. I had just gotten to my job at Abercrombie & Fitch in the Oakbrook Center mall at 4 p.m. and had only been working at the checkout counter for 45 minutes, when I saw groups of people running towards the mall’s exits. 

Out of precaution, my store manager double-locked the four doors leading in and out of the store and kept all customers and employees inside. After a few minutes of going back to running the store as normal, one of my coworkers, who was doing some last minute Christmas shopping, started slamming on the door to come in. The news he had to share was something I never expected to hear—gunshots were reported near Nordstrom. 

Saying I was shocked would be a huge understatement, since I had been shopping at the Oakbrook mall for years and had never heard of—let alone experienced—violent activity. Trying to keep some sort of composure for the customers’ sakes, my manager led all the employees and customers into the back of the store to the stockroom. After about 30 minutes of patiently waiting for some sort of report as to what was going on, the mall security officer called the store and announced that there was, in fact, a shooter. He added that we needed to stay inside with the door locked and wait for further information. 

At this point in time, I was pacing back and forth in the stockroom and somehow managed to calm myself down enough to call my parents, and let them know about the situation before they heard it on the news. I called my mom and made sure she knew everyone in the store was safe and that I would update her as soon as I got new information. 

After many more phone calls and text messages with friends and family making sure I was safe, the only thing left to do was play the waiting game. Throughout the four and a half hours when other employees, customers, and I were stuck in the stockroom, I learned a lot about their lives and other coworkers of mine. The only thing we could do at that point was talk quietly to each other, to distract ourselves. 

At about 9:30 p.m, we were directed to put our hands on our heads by a police officer, and walk quietly and quickly as the SWAT team escorted everyone out of the store to the parking lot. While we were being escorted, we had multiple police officers and a sketch artist asking if we had heard or seen anything. I, of course, replied with a no, considering I had not been near the original incident. When I had finally passed all of the squad cars and officers, I met my dad in the back of the parking lot and made my way home. After a long, scary night, I was relieved everyone was safe and I was allowed to leave the mall.

A few weeks after the incident we had a counselor come to the store to talk about what happened. While I did not utilize that opportunity I am still grateful it was available. Looking back now (in February) on this incident I have learned that it does not matter how safe or protected you might think a certain neighborhood or area is, anything can happen at any moment and the best thing to do is stay informed and calm during those situations.