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Typical disturbances not in store

I wrote about this shopping center quite a few times. It was never about a new store opening, or a door-buster sale.

It was always about crimes and disturbances. 

There was the possible flash mob in the summer of 2011. There was the alleged shoplifter in 2013 who fled from loss prevention authorities and struck an elderly man with his vehicle. 

The last quarter of 2014 was full. In October, I wrote about two alleged purse-snatchers at this shopping center. Their M.O. was simple: One suspect would approach the women, loading purchased items into their vehicles, and he would say “Hello.” He would then snatch the purse and jump into a SUV that fled. 

The next month, I wrote about shoplifters who crashed into two police cars during their attempt to flee the scene. The driver was caught after the wreck, while the passenger ran but was later apprehended. A responding police officer broke a finger in that ordeal. Luckily, I had the opportunity to also write about the suspects’ arrests.

After I left the daily journalism world, I often read about this shopping center. There was a weekday bomb threat at its anchor store in 2015. The store was evacuated. A year later, there was another bomb threat. 

In December 2015, I read again about a shoplifter who fled, made it not even a mile, and wrecked into another vehicle. I read about police having to respond to a large group of loiterers on Christmas night in 2016. This January, I read about two people being arrested for disorderly conduct, and another person with a gun.

These stories make me uneasy. My mom shops there, as does my mother-in-law. Friends shop there. I’m thankful for police presence, but my Lord, it shouldn’t be that much of a necessity. 

Today I went to this shopping center to eat lunch with my brother. I have become accustomed to seeing the red and blue lights here, the suspicious people strutting between the cars in the dark. Not today. Today was different. As I made the right turn into the shopping center, I saw a handful of people holding large white signs. 

Great, I thought. I have seen photos and videos from the political protests across the nation. I was in Atlanta recently and observed about a hundred people marching in support of Obamacare. I assumed this would be something similar. We are conditioned to believe it is always a protest, these days.

I was dead wrong.

I’m not sure who they were, a family or members of some church group. But printed on their signs in red were “Stop For Prayer” and “Jesus Cares.”

I just hope those past stories, of fleeing thieves and hoax bomb threats, didn’t scare people away and keep them from seeing this today. 

Gary Lloyd is the author of five books: "Trussville, Alabama: A Brief History," "Deep Green," "Heart of the Plate," "Valley Road: Uplifting Stories from Down South," and "Ray of Hope." He has been a reporter and editor at newspapers and magazines in Mississippi and Alabama. He grew up in Trussville, Alabama, and graduated from Hewitt-Trussville High School in 2006. He earned his bachelor's degree in journalism from The University of Alabama in 2009. He lives in Moody, Alabama, with his wife, Jessica, and their two dogs, Abby and Sonny.

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