‘Heart’s pounding’: Northwoods Mall employees’ reactions to ‘smash and grab’

Loud popping sounds in a crowded mall are any shopper’s nightmare and that’s exactly what employees say they heard at Northwoods Mall in North Charleston.
Published: Nov. 20, 2023 at 4:45 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 20, 2023 at 7:44 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Loud popping sounds in a crowded mall are any shopper’s nightmare and that’s exactly what employees say they heard at Northwoods Mall in North Charleston on Saturday.

North Charleston Police responded to the mall for reports of a shooting, which was later identified as a “smash and grab” robbery at the Zales jewelry store.

Athena Kisner, a Northwoods Mall employee, was working just a few yards away from where it happened.

“All of a sudden, I just hear, ‘Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!’” Kisner said. “And my first thought was ‘Holy crap. A shooting.’”

Another mall employee, Kodan Heavey, was also working right across the hall and saw the suspect herself.

“He had a hammer or an axe or some kind of weapon, blunt object, in his hand and he’s just whacking the heck out of that countertop,” Heavey said.

A few shoppers who spoke off-camera described the situation as horrific. One said it’s a shame you can’t even go Christmas shopping without being a little worried.

The incident report states one of the Zales employees told officers a man came in, smashed a jewelry case, stole merchandise and left a crowbar.

“I had no idea what was going on,” Kisner said. “Just, you know, heart’s pounding.”

Kisner and Heavey say they had to follow the mall’s security procedures by closing the gates at the store’s entrances, hiding customers in the back and waiting for the OK from law enforcement.

They both said they felt prepared.

“We got as much training as we can,” Kisner said.

However, it didn’t feel the same going into work this week.

“I’m nervous,” Kisner said. “I heard a bang earlier from somebody’s gate coming up and it made me jump. And I’m like, ‘Oh geez. I’m going to be jumping for the rest of the week.’”

North Charleston Police say there have been eight robberies — some armed — in or around the Northwoods Mall property since 2021. Kisner also mentioned a shooting that injured three at the mall that happened on Valentine’s Day in 2021.

Stacey Keating, the vice president of corporate communications of CBL Properties who oversees Northwoods Mall, declined to provide the security camera footage of the “smash and grab” incident. However, she did provide this statement:

In addition to employing a full-time, third-party security team, we maintain a close working relationship with North Charleston Police Department, which includes hiring off-duty officers to patrol during high-traffic periods. Our security measures include these efforts that are visible to the public as well as many that are not. We evaluate our security protocol on an ongoing basis, making adjustments as necessary.

We take the concerns of mall employees and customers very seriously. We will have PD on-site on Black Friday, throughout the weekend and the holiday season.

Heavey says this incident could change the number of people shopping at the mall this holiday season, but they’re remaining positive.

“It’s just like the rest of the events in America,” Heavey said. “There’s a lot of people coming together like this to do their shopping or just hang out with their family and friends.”

She adds that that law enforcement presence is necessary.

“They’re here for our safety,” Heavey said. “So, their presence is very much appreciated by everybody working at the mall and everybody shopping at the mall.”

A request for comment from a Zales manager was not immediately returned.

The incident report says the smash-and-grab robber was a man wearing a jumpsuit with a Rugrats character on it. He arrived at the mall in a white Dodge Ram pickup truck, which police later learned was stolen.

Witnesses told officers the robber looked to be carrying a baby during the crime, but North Charleston Police say they obtained no information indicating that was true.

No arrests have been made and the investigation is still ongoing.

Anyone with information is asked to call the North Charleston Police tip line at 843-607-2076 or Crime Stoppers of the Lowcountry at 843-554-1111.