After hours of searching in and around the Mall of Georgia on foot, with K-9 units and by air Wednesday afternoon, police found “no suspicious devices or packages.”
Gwinnett County Police Department officers, Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office deputies and Gwinnett County Department of Fire and Emergency Services personnel were dispatched to the Buford mall at about 1 p.m. after receiving a bomb threat from “an unknown person.”
The person — police have not said whether it was a man or a woman — told 911 call-takers that “multiple explosive devices” had been placed inside the mall, and that the bombs were “set to detonate in three hours,” according to Gwinnett County Police Department spokeswoman Cpl. Michele Pihera.
While police searched for the alleged bombs, the mall remained open to shoppers, many of whom were oblivious to the fact that there was an incident underway.
“I was in the mall shopping and came out and saw (police),” said shopper Randy Moo. “I saw no police inside — when I came out, I saw all the fire trucks and cop cars.”
Because the incident was not an active crime scene, Pihera said, mall management had “complete authority” over whether to shut down the mall or not.
“They elected to keep it open,” Pihera said. “We (had) members of our criminal investigations (division) here while simultaneously having the search go on to make sure there are no suspicious devices inside the mall.”
That search concluded about three hours after the threat was made. While many shoppers experienced little disruption, the incident did frighten Buford resident Tammy Putman, who was shopping at Dillard’s when the cashier mentioned the bomb threat.
“I said, ‘Hurry up and check me out because I’m going to get on up out of here,’” Putman said. “I was nervous, given the things that are going on in the world.”
Wednesday’s threat comes days after two mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio left at least 31 people dead, and a little more than a week after another mass shooter killed three people then himself at a garlic festival in Gilroy, Calif.
Pihera said the heavy law enforcement response likely wasn’t related to the recent shootings; police would have responded the same to any bomb threat.
“With the Gwinnett County Police Department working so closely with the sheriff’s office and a lot of our city agencies and the fire department, we have the personnel to respond to incidents like this,” Pihera said. “Regardless of what is happening in our nation, in Ohio and in Texas, I think they probably would have had the exact same response.”
Putman said the recent shootings — one of which was at Walmart and occured while people were shopping — made Wednesday’s bomb threat scarier, though.
“It’s getting crazy; I’m going to start shopping from home,” she said. “This really made me nervous and (realize) that it’s real. This stuff is really happening everywhere now. You’ve got to start watching your back, and that ain’t good.”
Police are continuing to investigate the incident and are working to find the person who made the threats. Detectives are asking anyone with information to call 770-513-5300 or contact Crime Stoppers at 404-577-TIPS (8477) or visit stopcrimeATL.com.
The case number is 19-072257.