A trip to the mall for 38-year-old Rebecca Riley, from Northern Ireland, to let her three young sons play with toys at Santa's workshop during Black Friday weekend, left them terrified and begging to return home.
Riley and her sons, ages 4, 8 and 10 years-old, were on the opposite side of the escalator inside The Parks at Arlington Mall when a Arlington police officer opened fire on a suspect standing on the escalator holding a replica gun.
"I'm just trying to reassure my kids they are going to be all right," said Riley. "This is new to us living here anyway and they now think this is what happens here."
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Seconds before the gunfire rang out, Riley had grabbed a cup of coffee and walked out of a store with her husband and sons. Caught off-guard by the sound, she didn't stop to look around.
"In that instance we didn't know what that was," said Riley. "But then everybody just started running and panicking. It's that moment when you think, 'Oh this is bad.'"
Panic inside the mall
She said a rush of fear came over her and her husband. He grabbed their 4-year-old son off the floor and they all started to run.
"At that moment I didn't know whether to hide or get on the floor. I tried to stay calm for my kids you know. But your mind just goes to the worst place," said Riley. "Like, 'Oh my goodness this could be a mass shooting or terrorism,' you don't know."
Luckily, they weren't far from an exit. Once they got out of the mall, with hundreds of other shoppers, she said it played out like a scene from a movie.
"People were falling onto the floor as they were trying to get out of the mall," said Riley. "We really didn't know what to do. We just ran away from the noise. I just tried to keep reassuring my children as calmly as I could."
Her family managed to make it out into the parking lot and kept running until they ended up in front of a T.J. Maxx store in a strip mall across the street.
Shoppers react correctly
During a press conference a day after the shooting, Arlington police spokesman Christopher Cook said running was the right thing to do.
"This thing couldn't have worked more superb in our opinion," said Cook. "As soon as the incident occurred, the mall went into a lockdown status. You can imagine the panic with people being separated from their loved ones, people trying to run for cover and hiding. In this situation everyone was able to get out of the immediate threat area and allowed law enforcement to come in."
Cook went on to say that there was no one in the way or trying to record the incident with a cellphone, hindering the police response.
Dodd was later taken to Medical City Arlington for treatment. The officer involved in the shooting has been place on paid administrative leave, pending an investigation, and Dodd remains in critical condition at this time, according to Cook.
While it seemed as if time slowed down and sirens began blaring in the distance when the incident unfolded, Riley said it all happened within a few minutes.
She and her family huddled together in front of T.J. Maxx and prayed.
"We prayed for the people still inside and for the police who were going in," said Riley. "Afterwards we straightaway went to Twitter to find out more about what was going on."
She said T.J. Maxx employees opened their doors and let people in to shelter them during the incident.
Struggle to reassure children they are safe
Hours later, once they were all home safely, she tweeted her gratitude to the Arlington Police Department, saying, "@ArlingtonPD Our young family were at the Parks Mall today and we want to thank you for your courage and speed at how you acted to keep us all safe."
The Arlington police retweeted Riley's tweet, to her surprise.
Her family, originally from England, spent the past seven years in Coleraine, a large town in County Londonderry, Northern Ireland and moved to Arlington just four months ago.
Riley said she plans to return to the Parks at Arlington mall in the future. She's been trying to reassure her sons that they are safe.
"Unfortunately we don't live in a bubble. We live in the real world where these things possibly could happen," said Riley. "I try as gently as i can say, 'It's unusual, were safe and there are brave people around us to keep us safe like the police.'"