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Woodbridge Center Mall Shooting Too Close To My Youth

Sears Entrance
(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

I grew up in Union County, New Jersey. Everyone I know there today is talking about what happened last night at Woodbridge Center Mall. A suspected shoplifter was confronted by security guards and chose to escalate the situation into a deadly ending. He pulled a knife, grabbed a woman who was a stranger to him, just another shopper, and held a knife to her throat in an attempt to get away. An off duty police officer intervened, warned him several times to drop the knife. He wouldn’t. The officer opened fire and killed him. Witnesses describe seeing the man lying in a dark crimson pool of his own blood on the floor at the entrance to Sears. Chaos everywhere. People screaming, running, stampeding, warning others on their way in to get out.

I know I speak for many people from Union and Middlesex counties when I say another little piece of innocence from my childhood just died. So strange to see the neighborhoods turn, good things go ugly. The Woodbridge Center Mall was where I spent so much of my “Fast Times At Ridgemont High” years. My friends would take the buses there and meet up, just hang out in the years before teenagers hung out like gangtas. I remember when it had the SpacePort video arcade and how quickly my money would disappear there. I remember one of my first jobs at the Wendy’s that was there. I remember buying some of my first gifts for my mom and dad, the ones you buy with your own money not bought for you, right there at the mall. I remember one of the nicest Christmastime gatherings I ever had at the old Sweet Lou’s pub which was owned by Lou Piniella.

Now I’ll always remember when a gun and a knife and a hostage and a pool of blood changed that legacy. The wolf has always been at the door. As we get older and things change, neighborhoods turn, times feel different, the wolf just seems a lot closer.

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