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Independence, Overland Park residents weigh in on mall safety after recent gun violence

Residents react to recent gun violence
Posted at 7:00 PM, Nov 13, 2023

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Sunday's gunfire at the Oak Park Mall and Friday's shooting at the Independence Center have a lot of people talking about mall safety.

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For some individuals, like Cassandra and MaCaila Houston, safety is a big deal, considering they were witnesses to Friday's shooting.

"It was just a normal day, and it was like, ‘Oh okay, surprise,' MaCaila Houston said.

Houston, a high schooler, says she thinks about shootings often. Not only are school shootings on her radar, but she says growing up in Chicago wasn't the safest experience.

"I grew up in a neighborhood where you hear that every night," she said.

But despite her close proximity to shootings in the past, Friday was the first time she was within steps of one.

"I’m right there," she said. "Like, I see where they’re shooting at, and I’m like, ‘Oh okay, I need to get to my mom.’"

Turns out her mom was thinking the same thing; as soon as she heard the shots, she messaged MaCaila.

"I was downstairs on the bottom level, and she was upstairs," she said. "I texted my daughter and said, ‘I don’t know what that sound was, but you need to get back to me right now.’"

They ended up exiting the mall separately, but met up outside in the parking lot. Despite making it out safely, the aftermath of the shooting is still with them.

"It was a very terrifying experience," Cassandra Houston said. "I know if it can happen once, it’ll happen again."

Houston says she has no plans of going back to the Independence Center. It's a decision a long-time Independence resident, Holland Mertell, made years ago.

"I don’t have any reason to go there anymore," Mertell said. "It not, by any means, the first thing that's happened in the shopping center over there. It used to be a nice place to go. Of course when I was a kid and it was brand new, it was wonderful."

He says the timing of the shooting is something he could see impacting where people shop for the holidays.

"It used to be that from about this time of the year until after Christmas, you couldn’t drive on 39th street because it was so crowded with people going to the Independence Center," he said. "It’s really an unhappy thing in the run up to Christmas."

Mertell says if keeping the mall open is something that will remain unsafe, he's not for it.

"I don’t know the answer to it other then, I’m sorry, close it," he said.

One local business owner, Danny Assal, says it doesn't have to resort to this, at least for Oak Park. He's owned Dan's Clothier & Tailor Shop — which sits right across the street from Oak Park mall — for decades.

"In the last 37 years I’ve been here, only twice something like this happened, maybe three times at the most," Assal said. "That’s nothing."

Assal says he did not know about the incident until Monday. In his experience, Overland Park is a safe place that doesn't need more security.

"We have a lot of police around here, and everything is really fine and safe," he said. "We should never stop people from going shopping or anything. It’s just a very small incident."

But for people like the Houstons, who were in a mall when a shooting occurred, they have a different outlook on safety and what's needed to ensure it.

"If metal detectors are needed, you know, okay," Cassandra Houston said. "Can you show that you can have [a gun]? You know, something like that."

In the meantime, she plans to take her own safety precautions.

"It looks like I’ll be doing a lot more online shopping," she said.