Editor’s Note: This story includes mention of gun violence.
On a Sunday two days after her 18th birthday, Delanie Brewer was shopping at Greenwood Park Mall.
After a few hours of browsing stores, Delanie and her boyfriend left the Vans store and walked toward the food court area. They were on their way to the parking lot right outside the Dick’s Sporting Goods store.
As they turned the corner, multiple loud noises went off.
She and everyone around her froze.
Suddenly, she felt completely defenseless. A deep feeling in the pit of her stomach surfaced.
She and her boyfriend started running.
“At that point, we didn’t really know what was happening,” she said.
“We just knew that we had to run.”
On a typical Sunday, the circular food court in the Greenwood Park Mall is alive and bustling with the first rush of the week. The automatic doors open and shut constantly, as people of all ages rush in and out with bags, strollers and other items purchased in the mall.
The floors are clean. Chairs are arranged orderly, with four or five to a table.
In the back corner, near the entrance to the restrooms, a young man offers samples of food from Asian Chao. The man is holding a round and black plastic tray, topped with chicken sitting in small, clear cups.
On July 17, 2022, Jonathan Douglas Sapirman stood in that same spot holding a rifle. He took three lives before being gunned down himself by an armed bystander.
It’s been eight months since that day. Though, for those who were at the mall when the shooting occurred, time doesn’t heal the trauma.
Although there is no official consensus on what constitutes a mass shooting, one report showed there were at least 647 mass shootings in the U.S. in 2022. In 2023, so far, there have been 93.
With only 365 days in a year, the math becomes simple. Multiple mass shootings a day are common in America.
The repeated and constant horror and shock will never become normal.
“People who have been directly impacted, for them, there’s no numbness,” Rachel Guglielmo, volunteer leader with the Indiana chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said. “If you were a person who was at the mall, having your lunch at the food court that day, I’m sure you’re not feeling numb. I’m sure you’re feeling a whole wide range of reactions,”
Due to the rise in mass shootings, the U.S. has become a nation of survivors. The consistent nature of these events has contributed to a nation of people experiencing direct trauma but also constant violence that may affect them indirectly, Guglielmo said.
Schools. Shopping malls. Movie theaters. Churches. Parades. Grocery stores. College campuses. All places people now have a reason to fear.
“That’s so emphatically not normal that it’s completely unacceptable,” Guglielmo said.
Some Greenwood residents will never step foot in the mall again.
At 4:54 p.m., Sapirman entered the mall and immediately walked into the bathroom in the food court. There were two rifles, a pistol and 100 rounds of ammunition in his possession.
He was in the bathroom for an hour and two minutes before emerging and beginning to shoot.
Everybody in the mall stopped in unison and turned their heads once the shots rang out.
Screams were cried out and everyone started running. People were falling, pushing and shoving each other.
The deafening silence when the shots rang out was now irrelevant. Delanie’s ears were ringing. She had tunnel vision as she was running.
“You’re just running as hard and as fast as you can, and your body’s kind of trying to protect you in that way,” she said.
Delanie was coughing stuff up throughout the following week, as a result of running so hard. She described the feeling as a burning in her chest, as if someone was sitting on her.
“The next day, it felt like I had gotten hit by a car, which is kind of the come-down of an adrenaline rush,” Delanie said.
She had the entire mall ahead of her. She was running in the opposite direction from where she was parked.
“As I was running, I had a pretty far way to go,” Delanie said. “I started preparing myself that if something might happen to me, it’s going to be okay. If I get shot, I’m going to try to keep going. If I die, it’s going to be okay.”
After shooting five people and killing three, Sapirman was taken down by Elisjsha Dicken, an armed bystander who fired his pistol at the assailant.
The three victims were 30-year-old Victor Gomez, and husband and wife Pedro Piñeda, 56, and Rosa Mirian Rivera de Piñeda, 37. A 22-year-old woman was left with a gunshot wound to the leg, and a 12-year-old girl was hit by a bullet fragment.
Mall patrons hiding in stores were later escorted out of the building by police past the food court.
Shoes of all kinds, sizes baby to adult, were scattered across the light grey floor. Strollers were tipped over, dropped bags were laying everywhere. Personal belongings like phones and wallets were left behind, Katherine Duke, lead supervisor at the Coach store, said.
Clean-up efforts following the shooting had yet to begin, and police officers were screaming at the groups of patrons to not look.
“It was the worst feeling to walk through the mall after that because you know exactly what had just happened,” Duke said. “The mall was in complete chaos.”
The Greenwood Park Mall is located in the city of Greenwood, Indiana, just south of Indianapolis. The population was just under 65,000 as of July 2021.
The town’s water tower is located in the parking lot of the mall. The hub for middle school hangouts, prom dress shopping, family outings and more, the mall consistently welcomes new stores and is normally busy.
“I’ve gone there for years since we’ve lived here,” Elizabeth Zieles, a Greenwood resident, said. "I go there maybe once, twice a month, and never thought anything bad would ever happen there. Just thought it was a safe place.”
In August, Elizabeth had wanted to take her granddaughter to Build-A-Bear for her birthday. She had a slight fear of returning to and bringing her granddaughter to the building where, just a month prior, she cowered in the back of a store, calling her family members and saying goodbye. Elizabeth made sure to ask her son and daughter-in-law for permission.
Elizabeth has lived in the Greenwood area for 27 years. She had gone with family members to the mall on a regular basis before the tragedy.
Now, going there, she said she feels a “tug in her heart.”
In one recent instance, she parked her car outside of the mall and had plans of going in until she saw a man wearing a backpack. She remembered Sapirman also had worn a backpack.
“I wouldn’t get out of my car until he left,” Elizabeth said.
Though Elizabeth has been back to the mall since the shooting, other people who were there that day will never return. Katie Walesky is one of those people and now refuses to go out in public alone.
When the shots went off, Katie was on her way out of the mall with her sister Ally, passing by the food court.
Ally had just undergone ACL surgery and was not cleared for any physical exertion like running, as she was in recovery. Katie, who was already ahead, was screaming for her sister from the outside of the mall. Ally finally called back after a few moments, hobbling along as fast as she could.
The sisters slept in the same bed together a few nights after the shooting. They had been previously going through a rough patch, now reconnected by trauma they wished they did not have to share.
Ally said Katie was a walking reminder of that day for her for a while.
“I didn’t want that for her, or for me. I don’t want to look at my sister, and she’s a reminder of the shooting,”
Katie and Ally grew up in the area. They both graduated from Roncalli High School, just over 10 minutes from the mall. Everyone in the community knows someone who was shopping or working that day, Katie said.
“After we got over ‘we’re all OK,’ we were all just in shock,” Katie said. “How can this happen so close to home?”
Now, her first thought when going out in public is finding every possible exit. She stays very aware of her surroundings.
Ally feels like a piece of innocence she held was ripped away from her that day. She doesn’t want to return to the mall and feel as though she is risking her life, she said.
“It’s just kind of a change in mindset, like bad things do happen,” Ally said. “Even though they seem so big, so far away, like it’ll never happen, it does.”
Delanie’s birthday shopping trip turned into her running for her life.
She doesn’t know if she’ll ever return to the mall. For a while after the shooting, she couldn’t step foot in any public place, even those most familiar to her.
She, like others who were in the mall in July, hopes to work up the courage to return to the mall in the future.
For now, however, it remains a reminder. A reminder of the day in which the only people that stood between her and a man shooting a gun were those who had stopped for a meal before closing time.
Three of whom are no longer with us.
A list of resources is available here if you or someone you know has experienced gun violence or a mass shooting:
American Psychological Association Resources
The Family Institute at Northwestern Resources for Families
Counseling and Psychological Services at IU
Like what you're reading?
Support independent, award-winning student journalism. Donate.