A boy and girl, both 13, were stabbed outside a movie theater in the South Bay Galleria Saturday night, leaving them in intensive care and raising questions about safety at the shopping center.
The stabbings appear to come against a backdrop of ongoing concerns about the mall, despite recent improvements to its security procedures and a $32 million facelift. Earlier this month, the high-end retailer Nordstrom, Inc., said it would move its store out of the Galleria, “in order to better serve customers throughout the South Bay area.”
A check of the Redondo Beach police department’s crime database by NBC4 showed 128 crimes linked to the mall’s address over the past 90 days, including 66 petty thefts, 12 burglaries, one attempted robbery and one sexually-related incident. The database, which goes back only three months, did not show any assaults during that period.
Sgt. Mario Fizulich, the watch commander on duty Sunday morning at the Redondo Beach police department, said the mall did not have a significant history of violent assault.
But consumers appeared to have been concerned about safety issues there.
Posting on the review site Yelp just two days before the attack on the teens, one woman wrote that she avoided the mall after dark.
“I wouldn’t ever go to the Galleria at night,” she wrote. “It just doesn’t feel safe.”
Another reviewer, recommending the nearby Del Amo Fashion Center, also expressed concern about the Galleria, saying, “a friend of mine always valet-parked her car because of a stabbing incident.”
Jeff Linton, a spokesman for the company that owns and operates the mall, said he was aware of the Yelp reviews, as well as the concerns raised about safety.
“We certainly monitor social media as it relates to our malls,” said Linton, who is head of media and investor relations for Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprises. “We are aware of the comments that people make.”
Linton said that the company was aware of the stabbing incident, and stressed that Forest City was cooperating with authorities in their investigation.
He would not offer specifics about the company’s security plans at the mall, but said safety for patrons was “our very highest priority.”
“We have professional security on the premises at all times,” Linton said. “It’s impossible to anticipate or stop all incidents from happening, but we do everything in our power to make sure it is a safe environment.”
Later in the day, the company also issued the following statement: "We were saddened to learn that two teenagers were hurt at South Bay Galleria last night and send our thoughts and prayers to them and their families."
By mid-morning on Sunday, police still did not have a motive for the attack, which took place inside the mall, just outside of a third-floor AMC movie complex, Fizulich said.
But a picture of their possible assailant began to emerge in the afternoon, when police said they were looking for an African-American man between the ages of 40 and 50. He had a beard and mustache, and was wearing a fatigue jacket, black t-shirt and a dark-colored beanie.
He is believed to have been wielding a kitchen knife.
The young teens, who were unconscious when police arrived at about 7:30 pm Saturday, had been stabbed in their upper bodies, Fizulich said. By Sunday morning, they were out of surgery, and had been moved to the intensive care unit at Habor-UCLA Medical Center. By afternoon, police said they were in stable condition.
There was no evidence that either teen had any gang affiliations, and neither had any record of run-ins with the police, the department said.