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I was checking out a Tomica die-cast toy car inside Toy Kingdom at SM Megamall when my young daughter’s yaya, Gina, immediately gave her mobile phone to me. On the other end of the line was my wife in near-hysteria.
"There's something happening!" she said. I could barely hear nor understand what she was saying but I could sense that she knew something was wrong. So I told her to stay where she was so I could go get her. And then, for some reason, the call was cut off.
I told Gina to stay with my daughter Caitlyn, instructing her that no matter what, they shouldn’t go out of Toy Kingdom.
The die-cast cars section inside the store was located at the back so it took me several seconds to reach the main door facing the Food Court at the basement area.
While rushing toward the main entrance, I saw a staffmember of the store already racing to the door and I could hear a voice on the public address system telling everyone to stay inside.
By the time I reached the door, the steel gate was on its way down. The guard and a male staff told me to stay inside for my safety.
Later, I discovered that not only was Toy Kingdom being locked down, the whole mall - one of the largest and busiest in Asia - was being locked down as well.
Despite the plea of security personnel telling me to stay away from the doors and windows, struggled to get a peek to see what was happening and I saw shops doing exactly what Toy Kingdom was doing - sealing off entrances and exits and pulling down steel doors.
The Food Court was already closed and people were running around in panic, even on the escalators. It was a scary sight. But what proved scarier was that I didn’t even know the reason behind what was taking place before my eyes.
Megamall's Saturday crowd
It was a Saturday and obviously, malls around the metro were crowded. And Megamall was no exception.
We arrived around 5:30 p.m. Parking was full and the waiting lines were long, far longer than my patience could bear. Nonetheless, without any complaint, I waited almost 20 minutes for a valet to take my car and park it at the back of Megamall. During the long wait, I decided to charge my BlackBerry and on hindsight, it was a good thing I did.
It was typical SM mall weekend. People were a-plenty. There were a lot of cosplayers roaming around too, because of an ongoing “otaku” event on the 4th level Megatrade Hall. We planned to have a nice family dinner that evening, right after our individual errands. But that didn’t take place.
A tense moment
Peeking through the window, I had the urge to go out and join the commotion. From my vantage point, I couldn’t see anything “newsworthy”. I simply saw groups of people rushing outside, running in panic.
It was so frustrating because I wanted to know why. All I could hear from Toy Kingdom staffmembers were: “Sir, stay away from the windows, for your safety please.”
On several occasions on the public address system, the Toy Kingdom staff were repeating reminders to stay calm. Meanwhile, I posted messages on my Twitter account, telling my followers what I was experiencing even though I myself couldn’t explain what was happening.
But that didn’t prevent me from bugging the security people inside TK and asking them what was happening outside.
At that time, unconfirmed reports said that gunshots were heard and that armed men were inside the mall. For some reason, this piece of news gave me a sense of relief, a semblance of understanding of what was happening.
I knew that my wife and my stepson were still out there somewhere, while my youngest son was on his way to the mall to meet us for dinner.
It was 7:20 in the evening and we were all supposed to meet for dinner already and this thing -- and I didn’t know what it was at that time -- took place.
I was thinking some kind of “rumble” could have transpired between groups of cosplayers or some rowdy anime fans making a scene. But a complete lockdown?
Finally, one of the guards told me that an armed robbery at Building B was ongoing.
We were trapped and locked in for more that 25 minutes and some people at Toy Kingdom were already losing their patience and demanding to be let out. When my wife arrived safely in front of the store’s entrance, she was allowed to enter by security people but we decided to go out anyway.
From Toy Kingdom, we passed through the north entrance of the mall, where many of the people were also exiting in a rush.
On our way out, the mall's hallways were practically empty. It was so eerie. Steel doors on most stores were still down. Behind the store windows you could see people, customers still inside, peeking, waiting anxiously, looking distressed.
Once outside, we eventually learned what happened. I'm sure everyone inside Megamall that evening were only too glad to be alive.