Senior Kaitlyn Pham and mother at scene of Great Mall shooting

Around 5:20 p.m. this evening, a shooting occurred at the Great Mall in Milpitas. 

The Mall is on lockdown and the Milpitas Police Department (MPD) asks people to stay clear of the area. 

“MPD is currently investigating a shooting at the Great Mall,” the MPD tweeted at 6:20 p.m. “Out of an abundance of caution we have asked all stores to shelter-in-place while officers continue assessing the situation. Please stay away from the area and we’ll provide additional updates shortly.” 

Senior Kaitlyn Pham and her mother Thi Le-Pham were at the scene. As soon as they entered the mall, a security guard who was standing near them got a message about “something happening at Exit 4” and immediately ran in that direction. Seconds later, as the two were walking by the Michael Kors store, a “stampede of screaming, frantic people started running towards” them. At first, Kaitlyn grabbed her mother’s hand and asked whether they too should exit through the store. 

“At first, I was confused; why are people running? I thought, ‘Am I going to die? I haven’t gotten into college yet,’” Kaitlyn said. “Who would do this around Christmas, in the middle of a pandemic? My second thought was to grab my mom’s arm so she doesn’t wander.”

Kaitlyn’s concerns about her mom were not unfounded, as Le-Pham’s first reaction was to run in the opposite direction of the masses to see what was going on. They hustled into Michael Kors and were about to exit, but an employee locked the door and ordered everyone to go into the back.

After everyone was sent toward the employee-only area, the panicked shoppers fled to a warehouse area behind the store, which gave way to an alley. Kaitlyn and Le-Pham recalled a father struggling to carry his kid in a stroller up the steps and little kids grabbing their parents’ hands saying, “Mommy, I’m scared.”

“It felt like a movie you don’t want to be a part of,” Le-Pham said. “My heart was just racing. It was absolute chaos.”

Once the two successfully escaped through the exit, they spent almost 20 minutes racing around the exterior of the mall — while police cars and firetrucks flooded the parking lot — searching for their car.

“As we were walking around, there were more and more officers,” Kaitlyn said. “I thought, ‘We have to get out before we get blocked in.’”

Though the two didn’t hear the gunshots themselves, Kaitlyn overheard other shoppers walking around the parking lot claiming they did. Up until then, neither was sure whether there was a shooting, bomb threat or something entirely different.

As they reached their car, Kaitlyn and Le-Pham realized they had originally been only a few stores from where the shooter was. Kaitlyn recounted there was “a huge mass of police cars where they were parked.”

The mother and daughter later agreed that the experience, which lasted almost two hours, “happened way too fast.” Regardless, they’re thankful to be home safe and hopeful that no one was hurt. 

“If we had gotten to the mall a little bit earlier, we probably would have been in the midst of all that chaos because that’s the area we were about to walk toward,” Kaitlyn said. “We probably would have been part of that stampede. We’re unlucky to be there in the first place, but lucky we got there later.”

“Search teams are systematically searching all stores that were sheltering-in-place, and will be escorting employees and customers out into the parking lot,” the MPD tweeted at 7:35 p.m. “Officers and Detectives remain on scene and are actively investigating this incident.”