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Shoppers describe ‘terror’ in mall after murder as hunt for gunman continues

Police say Javon Britten (upper right) was killed in a shooting at Orland Square Mall Monday. A manhunt is underway for the suspected shooter, Jakharr Williams (lower right). | Sun-Times/Justin Jackson; provided

Police say Javon Britten (upper right) was killed in a shooting at Orland Square Mall Monday. A manhunt is underway for the suspected shooter, Jakharr Williams (lower right). | Sun-Times/Justin Jackson; provided

As police continued to hunt for a man wanted in a shooting that left another man dead at an Orland Park mall, the victim’s family shared their sadness, and shoppers — including an Illinois lawmaker — told of the “terror” inside the mall once shots rang out.

And the mall reopened Tuesday — with many workers and shoppers going back to their normal routines, but with reminders of the incident the night before, including jars and other objects still strewn about after chaos ensued following the gunshots.

Javon Britten, 18, of Richton Park, was killed in the shooting  about 6:45 p.m. Monday in a lower level food court at the Orland Square Mall near 151st Street and La Grange Road, according to Orland Park police.

Police issued a warrant for Jakharr Williams, a 19-year-old University Park man who should be considered “armed and dangerous,” a news release said. Williams was released from prison in June after serving about a year in prison for a February 2017 robbery conviction. After a year-long stay at Shawnee Correctional Center in downstate Vienna, Williams was paroled in June 2018, records show. He was set to be discharged in June 2020.

Jakharr Williams, 19, of University Park, is wanted for a shooting at Orland Square Mall.

Jakharr Williams, 19, of University Park, is wanted for a shooting at Orland Square Mall. | Orland Park police

Police said Williams was involved in an argument with Britten when he pulled out a handgun and fired multiple shots, striking Britten in the chest and grazing a bystander’s leg, authorities said. An autopsy Tuesday found Britten died of multiple gunshot wounds and his death was ruled a homicide.

Relatives of Britten, a Rich Central High School student, begged the shooter to turn himself in.

“They stole my baby’s life today and I never dreamed I would have to bury him,” his mom, Nail Hobson, posted on Facebook. “I always dreamed he would bury me.”

Javon Britten | Facebook

His aunt told reporters that he was at the mall with a cousin when the gunman said he didn’t like Javon and an altercation ensued.

“He shot at Javon five times I believe, and two times at my other nephew Charles, but Charles was able to get away and get safe inside one of the stores in the mall,” said Stephanie Kizer.

The mall closed after the shooting and police located shoppers who hid in stores and escorted them out. Video from inside the mall showed chaos breaking out as shoppers ran for cover and police from many surrounding towns swarmed the area.

Lawmaker was at mall just steps away from shooting

State Sen. Elgie Sims, D-Chicago, was inside Justice — a children’s clothing store — with his wife and daughters when the shots rang out.

“I told everybody to get back, get down, get in the back and behind the counter because we didn’t know where the shooting was. Then I came from behind and crawled behind the register and got the front doors locked,” he said Tuesday.

Sims said he saw the victim on the floor right outside the doors of Justice.

He was also one of many shoppers who called 911. When police arrived, they searched the Justice store for the shooter and soon after, gave an all-clear, he said.

“We stayed there [in the store] while they worked on him. I kept everyone in the back of the store so nobody — so the kids — didn’t have the chance to see him being worked on.”

Sims was in the store with his wife and two daughters, ages 9 and 13.

“I have never seen the terror I saw in my children’s faces and I never want to see that again,” Sims said. “My children and those other children’s faces, which is one of the reasons I wanted to keep all the kids away from seeing the body. I just did not want them to experience that.”

Yeldar Zulyarov, 26, was working at a jewelry kiosk about 100 feet away from the shooting when he heard shots ring out. He lay on the ground inside the kiosk for a few moments before he took off running.

Seconds later, Britten staggered from the food court area and collapsed right next to Zulyarov’s stand, in front of an H&M clothing store.

“I looked back and I saw him laying there,” Zulyarov said. “I didn’t know if he was dead, but he looked dead,” he said.

Mall reopens

On Tuesday, police officers from many surrounding towns were back at the mall. Retirees in gym shoes strolled the fluorescent-lighted walkways, employees soaped up the floors in the food court and soft pop music floated down from the speakers.

But things weren’t quite back to normal. Plastic jars littered the floor in a nutrition store — knocked over in an apparent rush to get out of the mall.

Aseel Aliyan, 18, who runs an ornament stand at the edge of the food court, remained jittery.

Aliyan was working when she heard a single gunshot. Workers had been hammering just a few feet from her. So she thought nothing of the sudden crackle — until she heard three more shots.

‘I started running’

“I just looked around. Everyone started running,” she said. “So I started running. I left my purse.”

Outside the mall, Aliyan found a 16-year girl and her 3-year-old brother shivering in the cold. The children’s mother was still inside the mall.

So the mall worker invited them into her car so they would stay warm. It would be another two hours before the children were reunited with their mom.

“I felt so bad. I couldn’t leave them alone,” Aliyan said.

Aliyan said her father dropped her off at work Tuesday. Her purse was as she had left it — untouched.

Elsewhere in the mall, several retirees who stroll the mall in the winter months to stay fit were largely unfazed by the shooting, praising mall security and the local police.

“I’m just glad the doors were open when I got here,” said Larry Kostbade, 78, of Mokena. “This is my winter haven, my winter Florida.”

Kostbade said he doesn’t feel unsafe.

“That guy ain’t going to shoot me,” Kostbade said. “He shot who he wanted to.”

Reward offered

Little Village activist Raul Montes Jr. offered a $2,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest and prosecution of the shooter. In a press conference outside the mall, he called for tougher gun laws and “harsher” sentencing in light of the shooting.

“It’s an outrage to hear that somebody is shooting inside a mall in a food court,” Montes said. “There are children, senior citizens. … It might be an isolated incident, but everybody is a target at that time.”

Contributing: Nader Issa, Luke Wilusz