Police: Mall security lacking for big teen crowd
Mall security created a public safety risk and didn't alert police when thousands of young people jammed Roosevelt Field mall in hopes of seeing pop singer Justin Bieber, Nassau police said Saturday.
"You have to wonder about mall security who let this happen," said Lt. Kevin Smith, of Nassau County police. "Having it on the second tier was a bad idea. It should have been on the ground floor with sufficient room."
Les Morris, a spokesman for Simon Malls, Roosevelt Field's owner, said mall management had a security plan and routinely executes events like Friday's without problems. "This was a store event for which the mall was prepared," Morris said.
About 3,000 mostly young teen girls and their parents, chanting, "We want Justin!" clogged the mall's corridors Friday afternoon in anticipation of seeing Bieber, a 15-year-old Canadian recording artist with an R&B-inspired sound that's earned him comparisons to Justin Timberlake.
Nassau police learned for themselves of the escalating crowd at the mall. When police commanders arrived to see the unruly throng up close, they began ordering people to leave, Smith said.
The teens, some of whom had camped overnight or skipped school hours before, refused. In videos posted online, girls could be seen weeping and booing when a man with a bullhorn announced, "Justin is not coming."
Neither mall security nor Bieber's representatives consulted police about the event beforehand, Smith said.
"I think they underestimated the draw that would be achieved by him coming to Roosevelt Field," Smith said.
The biggest concern, police said, was that with so many people cramming the upstairs corridor outside the Justice girls clothing store, where Bieber was supposed to appear, the metal-and-glass railing could have snapped and sent hundreds of girls tumbling to the mall's lower level, Smith said.
"We would have had a mass casualty situation," Smith said.
Last year's Walmart stampede in Valley Steam did not affect how they handled Friday's situation, police said yesterday.
Friday's situation became worse because as police and security officers were telling the crowd to leave, Twitter postings and text messages circulating among the crowd speculated that Bieber still was about to show up, police said.
"Twitter messages circulated that he was coming, or was still on his way," Smith said. "People were still arriving despite police attempting to disperse the crowd."
The Justice store, part of an Ohio-based chain, refused to comment about Friday's incident. Honor Guard Security, which the store had retained to help handle the crowd, did not return calls for comment.
According to Justin Bieber's Web site, there was a plan for keeping the crowd orderly.
People were to line up at the mall's south entrance, upper level, until 2 p.m. A staging area would be in a mall parking garage, and 50 fans at a time, wearing color-coded wrist bands, would be escorted into the Justice store.
But the crowd overwhelmed the security, said Christine Perillo, 42, who was with her two daughters, her niece and her daughters' two friends.
"It was really out of control," Perillo said.
About 2:30 p.m., a security guard began lining up Perillo and the girls with her. But when they entered the mall, she said, a guard announced that the fire marshal had canceled the event and ordered them to leave immediately.
Bieber yesterday was following the fallout from Friday's trouble. "Last 24 hours have been crazy," he posted on Twitter. "I am working with my team to come up with a way to make it up to those fans who I didn't get [to] see yesterday."
With Sophia Chang
and Lauren Cioffi