Florida Mall Horror: One Victim Dead, Another Injured as Gunman Escapes

PANAMA CITY, FL – A tragic incident unfolded at the Paddock Mall in Ocala, Florida, on December 23, 2023, just two days before Christmas, leaving one person dead and another injured. The shooting, which occurred around 3:40 p.m., has sent shockwaves through the community during a time usually marked by festive celebrations.

The Ocala Police Department reported that a male victim was found deceased in a common area of the mall. Police Chief Mike Balken, addressing the media, indicated that the man appeared to be the intended target of the shooting. In the same incident, a woman sustained a gunshot wound to her leg. She was promptly transported to a hospital, where she is being treated for non-life-threatening injuries.

The mall, bustling with holiday shoppers, was thrown into chaos as the shooting unfolded. Additional injuries reported included chest pains and a broken arm, likely resulting from the panic and rush to escape the scene. In the wake of the shooting, the mall was evacuated as a precautionary measure.

Chief Balken described the situation as “the worst thing we can imagine right now at this time of the year.” He expressed sorrow over the incident, noting the particularly poignant timing during the holiday season. The loss experienced by the family of the deceased is compounded by the festive period, traditionally a time for family and joy.

Authorities recovered a firearm at the scene, believed to have been used in the shooting. The suspect, however, remains at large, having fled on foot. The police have urged anyone with information or who witnessed the incident to come forward, emphasizing the importance of public assistance in resolving the case.

The incident has left the community reeling, with many expressing their shock and dismay. Syriah Williams, an 18-year-old Bath & Body Works shopper, recounted the terrifying moment when shots rang out. She described how store employees hurriedly ushered customers to safety, highlighting the quick response of those present.

Jennifer Hunt Murty, owner of the Ocala Gazette, volunteered at a gift-wrapping station when the shooting occurred. She recounted the immediate response to the gunfire, including her efforts to alert authorities and assist in the aftermath.

The Paddock Mall is expected to remain closed for 12 hours as the investigation continues. Police Chief Balken has requested the public to avoid the area to facilitate the ongoing investigation.

This incident is a stark reminder of the unpredictable nature of public violence, even in settings meant for leisure and celebration. As the community grapples with the aftermath of this tragedy, the focus remains on supporting the victims and their families and on bringing the perpetrator to justice.