Craziest things ever to happen at a shopping mall

Malls are enduring symbols of our love affair with buying stuff we don't need at overpriced boutiques. Because all sorts of people go to malls, from moms with kids to teenagers to adults who figure walking in circles around the mall beats paying for a monthly gym membership, bizarre things tend to happen in these places. Sometimes it's senseless shootings and terrorist attacks and sometimes it's just plain weird incidents that are both disturbing and mildly entertaining at the same time. But ultimately, the fact that this stuff happens at all should kind of make you wonder why you still spend all that time driving in circles in the parking lot so you can go to the mall and spend way too much money on something you can just buy on Amazon without fear of rogue robot mall cops, herds of stampeding deer or rabid mall rats.

Love at first application screening

Your mom and your grandpa and maybe your aunt Jane are always on your case: "When are you going to meet a nice girl/boy and start a family?" It drives you nuts if you don't happen to be looking for someone and it drives you nuts if you're unsuccessfully looking for someone, so what do you do? Most of us wouldn't resort to marrying a stranger in a shopping mall just to get mom, grandpa, and Aunt Jane to shut up, but that's what David Weinlick did. And now you're laughing at his stupidity but wait — 19 years and four children later, the couple renewed their vows in the very same mall. Doesn't sound so stupid now, does it?

According to the Associated Press, Weinlick got sick of relatives asking him about the future Mrs. Weinlick, so he told them the wedding was June 13, 1998, even though he had no idea who the bride would be. Weinlick and his friends made a commercial and placed ads that attracted the attention of hundreds of bachelorettes. "Applicants" were screened by Weinlick's friends, who chose Elizabeth Runze, and the couple were married minutes after the decision was made. What's remarkable about this story is not the shotgun wedding but the fact that Weinlick's friends got it so completely right. So the next time someone tells you there's no such thing as love at first sight, don't believe it. There is, just so long as love gets a little pre-screening.

Easter Bunny vs. Some Guy

The Easter bunny. Soft, fluffy, with a basket of eggs in one paw and a basket of chocolate in the other. Despite enduring questions about the feasibility of a giant rabbit hauling so much loot around (at least Santa has a sleigh), plenty of people still love the Easter bunny. Once upon a time, at a mall in New Jersey, the Easter bunny brawled with some kid's dad over something, and of course someone recorded it because we live in a world where absolutely nothing can happen without some bystander putting it on YouTube.

The brawl began when a toddler slipped out of the photo chair and the (warning: spoilers) 22-year-old man playing the Easter bunny got blamed for it by the girl's father. According to, the Easter bunny had to remove his paws so he could land a couple blows before mall cops arrived to separate the pair.

What's really messed up about this story is that the poor kid's dad is such a hothead that he'd rather destroy the holiday fantasy for every child standing in line at the mall than let some punk bunny get away with being there when his kid fell out of a chair. Seriously, though, this kind of stuff only happens in New Jersey.

Shark-mall-nado, or something

From ice skating rinks to virtual-reality shows to indoor playgrounds worthy of the county fair (but without the carnies), malls have always tried to outdo each other with big attractions that will bring people through the doors and hopefully also encourage them to part with some cash at overpriced shops. The U.S. isn't the only country that does this — one mall in China realized Discovery was on to something and decided the thing it really needed to bring people in was sharks. So it had a 36-ton aquarium installed and threw in a bunch of lemon sharks, turtles, and various other fish. Then two years later the thing exploded, injuring 16 people and killing all the lemon sharks, turtles, and various other fish.

Investigators determined the accident was caused by temperature — according to IB Times, the glass had a "brittle" temperature of 48.5 degrees, which basically means relatively warm winter temperatures could (and did) cause the glass to fracture. So whoever designed and engineered the mall tank didn't bother to actually learn anything about what kind of glass you should use when you're building an aquarium and how it might stand up to daily stresses like, you know, weather. Here's hoping that guy never applies for a job at a real aquarium.

Oh, deer

In Minnesota, a bunch of deer got together one afternoon and agreed they needed new outfits, so they headed off to the mall for a day of shopping and maybe some Chinese at the food court. Except that they were deer, and deer don't really do that.

Instead, the herd of six white-tailed deer went on a stampede through the Moorhead Center Mall, which resulted in two dead deer, at least one shattered window and a damaged minivan. According to the Associated Press, the deer evidently became disoriented and crashed through windows and into doors in a desperate attempt to escape from the concrete pit of despair that is every shopping mall in America, much like you probably do on Black Friday.

The four surviving deer eventually made it back to the nearby river, and bystanders went, "Ooh, venison," and took one of the fatalities home for dinner. The other one was fed to the wolves at the local zoo. No word on whether the survivors at least got some good deals on clothes, which is really the only thing that makes those Black Friday stampedes worth the pain and suffering.

Secret man cave at the mall

If you're going to be a squatter you might as well do it at a mall because at least there's an IKEA and a Panda Express, and the bathrooms are usually sort of clean.

Rhode Island resident Michael Townsend and seven of his friends somehow managed to build a 750-square-foot apartment in the parking garage of the Providence Place mall, and here's the really insane part, they took turns living in it for four years without anyone noticing. The apartment was camouflaged behind a cinder block wall and evidently the mall cops were more concerned about shoplifters than a few missing parking spots, and now they're all really embarrassed.

According to NBC News, the apartment was fully furnished and even included a hutch full of dishes and at one time a Sony PlayStation, until burglars broke in and stole the PlayStation because even burglars knew about the place before the mall cops did.

Townsend said he did it because a lady voice told him to. And that's actually the truth — during the holiday season the mall ran a commercial that suggested it might be awesome to live at the mall. So basically, Townsend got sucker-punched for something the mall actually told him to do in the first place.

Robot mall cop takes down toddler

When our greatest minds debate the pros and cons of artificial intelligence, they discuss the possibility of self-awareness, the ethics of creating intelligence, and the cost-benefit of replacing human beings with a robotic workforce. They don't really consider the part where robots blunder around a lot and run into things because even mall cops are superior to the 21st century's super-lame robot technology.

Picture a giant Magic Bullet personal blender, which is what a mall cop robot looks like. A toddler sees the thing and runs gleefully in its direction because it's kind of like BB-8 only way lamer. The mall cop robot hits the child in the head, the child falls down, and then the robot rolls over his foot, thus removing a dangerous criminal from important public space. Justice!

Now if that had been an actual mall cop, there would have been much apologizing and maybe the mall cop would have even bought the poor kid an ice cream cone, but lame mall cop robots don't do that. According to the Chicago Tribune, after the incident, all the mall cop robots had to go on temporary leave, though the mall declined to say if it was paid or unpaid.

Incidentally, almost exactly a year later a robo mall-cop rolled into a public fountain in an apparent act of suicide, perhaps overcome with remorse over what it had done to the toddler in its previous place of employment.

Mall rat ... the kind with fur

According to the Urban Dictionary and that really bad movie from 1995, a mall rat is "a surly teenager who spends all of his or her time at the mall with friends." In the Philippines, though, a mall rat is an actual rat that stalks the escalator and literally attacks people.

If you thought a herd of stampeding deer in a mall was terrifying, a shopper at the mall in Manila, Philippines, captured video of a large rat sitting on the steps of a broken escalator lunging at people as they tried to walk past it.

According to the New York Post, officials blamed improper waste disposal in the area for the presence of the rat in the shopping mall, which is kind of like saying that rain is the reason why water is getting in through your leaky roof. The fact that a large rat can get into a public building is really more of an infrastructure problem than a waste disposal problem, but whatever. The larger question is not how the rat got in by why it seemed to believe it was a German shepherd on a mission to stop shoplifters and people who spend too much time sitting at the tables in the food court. Someone needs to give that rat a job and a badge.


Of all the horrors that could potentially stalk a shopping mall, the worst is not rogue robot mall cops or stampeding deer or potentially rabid rodents, but random people sucking on mall employee toes. Nope, not a joke.

According to Arizona Family, in January 2017, an 18-year-old mall employee told police that a customer complimented her shoes, then got down on his hands and knees for a closer look (which is pretty strange behavior all by itself), then in what is perhaps the most bizarre random crime of all time, sucked on her toes.

The suspect was identified and arrested, and charged with "sexual imposition" because evidently "lewd and lascivious conduct with someone's toes" isn't on the books as an actual crime yet. But let this be a warning to all mall employees: Wear closed-toed shoes to work. It's much better for not stubbing your toes on things and also for not getting your toes sucked on by random strangers.

Santa pawed

Then in this other incident, a woman groped a mall Santa. Yes, you read that correctly, Santa was groped by the person sitting on his lap, not the other way around. And all this time you've worried that malls might accidentally hire some deviant to play Santa when you should have been worried for Santa himself.

According to CBS News, the 33-year-old woman was charged with fourth-degree sexual assault after a mall Santa claimed she'd sat in his lap and then "touched him inappropriately." She later claimed to have no memory of the event, and her lawyer argued that at the time of the incident she'd been taking medication that may have caused her to behave impulsively. She was granted "accelerated rehabilitation" and was ordered to stay out of the mall.

What does this mean for the safety of mall Santas everywhere? "I'm imagining that this kind of harassment of Santa Claus is pretty rare," wrote employment attorney Daniel Schwartz, so if you've always wanted to be a mall Santa, you're probably going to be all right. But who knows?

The tragic tale of Ivan the gorilla

Putting animals on display in shopping malls is not that unusual — consider the "world's saddest polar bear," who lives in "the world's saddest zoo" at Grandview Mall in Guangzhou, China. In the West we like to think of ourselves as above keeping animals in 430-square-foot enclosures so shoppers can use them as selfie-backdrops, but for 27 years, a mall in Tacoma, Washington, was hardly better than the Grandview Mall — it had a captive gorilla on display in a cell much smaller than the one where the world's saddest polar bear lives.

According to NPR, Ivan the gorilla lived in a 14-by-14-foot concrete cell. He ate hamburgers and smoked cigarettes because someone evidently thought a cigarette-smoking gorilla would be hilarious. Eventually, the public stopped thinking a gorilla in a 14-by-14-foot cell was morally acceptable and asked the mall's owner to move him to a zoo. In what's one of the most bizarre and contradictory statements of all time, the mall's owner said, "He's probably the healthiest gorilla in America. Moving him across the country would kill him."

In 1995, public protest finally won out, so Ivan's owner had him moved to Zoo Atlanta, and was probably shocked to learn that the healthiest gorilla in America did, in fact, survive the journey. Ivan lived in Atlanta until his death in 2012 but sadly, was never able to adjust to life with other gorillas and had to be kept in isolation.

Mall rats (the sequel)

Mall rats (the human kind) can be sort of annoying and sometimes intimidating, especially when they're loitering around storefronts and glaring at everyone over the age of 27. But there aren't usually hundreds of them, so we mostly just accept them as an irritating but natural part of the environment, sort of like raccoons getting into your trash can or squirrels stealing seed from your bird feeder. Now imagine if there were hundreds of raccoons in your trash can and/or hundreds of squirrels in your bird feeder. Terrifying, right?

On December 26, 2014, the Post-Gazette reported that hordes of teenagers descended on the Monroeville Mall in Pennsylvania because social media told them to. And when social media tells people to do something and they do it, it's typically because they're really, really bored, and 1,000 really, really bored people together in a shopping mall is a formula for fist fights and brawls. Unsurprisingly, that's exactly what happened. It got so bad the mall decided to close early because all the fighting was depleting police resources. It's hard to say which is worse — actual rats attacking people on escalators or hundreds of really bored human mall rats also attacking people on escalators. Maybe it's safer to just do all your shopping online after all.