View Full Version : A JHB mall incident

Odd Job
September 23, 2006, 06:06 AM
I got into an unfortunate situation one day and ended up firing a warning shot in a shopping mall. I know, it sounds highly dubious and no doubt there will be those of you who condemn that action outright. But that was the only viable option I saw under the circumstances. In hindsight there were other options, but of course when you are in the middle of a bad situation you don't always think with military precision ;)

So, let me set the scene. Please excuse my rudimentary diagrams. The incident took place in 1995 in a rough part of Johannesburg called Hillbrow. At the time I didn't have a car and I was forced to shop in that area at least on some occasions. The shopping complex was a three storey building with groceries and general goods in the basement, clothing and accessories on the ground floor, and various other items such as kitchen white goods on the first and second floor.
I had just finished getting groceries in the basement and I was at the parcel counter getting my shoulder back (you aren't allowed to take bags into the shop). While I was standing at the counter I heard one of those security arch alarms go off (you know the kind that detects tagged items). This arch was one of a pair at the entrance to the stairs and the up escalator at the end of the store. A robber had tried to get through the arch with stolen goods and a male security guard had grabbed him by the arm. Here is the layout at that point:


1 = The robber
2 = The male security guard
4 = Me
Shoppers and staff = unmarked dark green
Solid masonry is in black, doors purple. One office was either plywood or drywall, I don't know which (in brown).
The teal blocks on the right are the tills (checkouts).

At this point, the robber beat up the security guard quite quickly, and threw him a little way towards the wall and towards the side. I had my bag from the parcel counter and I was turned to face the stairs. The robber took off up the escalator and the security guard was lying groaning on the floor. I didn't do anything at that point, just walked towards the exit. Now here is where things went sour. A female security guard came down the steps just as the robber was going up the escalator:


3 = female security guard

She managed to get hold of this robber by his shirt lapels and also managed to drag him all the way down the escalator backwards. It was quite comical how he had to frantically keep his balance but surprisingly he stayed on his feet until they got to the bottom of the stairs and escalator. At this point he reached in his shirt and produced a long knife, which had been filed on the top edge so that it had two sharp edges. He then stabbed the female security guard (it looked like root of neck, but the blade was on the other side of her neck and I couldn't see exactly). She didn't scream, just dropped motionless on the floor in a heap. As far as I was concerned this woman might have sustained a fatal injury. Now in SA at that time, you could shoot somebody dead to prevent or capture them in circumstances where they were perpetrating or had perpetrated a Schedule 1 offense. Without going into details, at that point right there I was entitled to kill him as an armed citizen. But please note two distinct disadvantages. First check the layout at that point:


Second, guess what gun I had...a .25 Baby Browning (this was before I got my car and my 9mmP). So at this point, I wanted the guy, I wanted him out of circulation. He was standing over the woman and several of the tellers were screaming and the manager came out of his office to my left. I dropped my shoulder bag and groceries and drew the .25 and yelled for the robber to stop.
Now this was quite a distance, I don't know how far, but further than I am inclined to target shoot with the little gun. I am not even certain whether he could make out what I had drawn. The office behind the robber was plywood and the door was closed. I didn't know if anyone was in there or not. There were shoppers and tellers on the right, some of them crouching. I didn't know whether he was going to stab this woman again or anyone else, and I also couldn't guarantee I could hit him from where I was. He didn't comply, he didn't put the knife down and I got very edgy about this situation. So here is what I thought: the only 'safe' place I could fire a shot was into the steps of the escalator. This is how I saw it in my mind's eye:


Yes, it constitutes a warning shot which I know very well is hardly ever justified, but I wanted this guy's attention and I wanted him to stop what he was doing and to know that I had the gun. I could't see my way clear to shoot him. So, ladies and gentlemen, I am here to tell you that I did indeed fire the shot, and here is the approximate trajectory:


The bullet was channelled into a gap between two escalator steps and disappeared into the works of the escalator. Subsequent to this incident I was not able to find any fragments of the projectile on the floor. I am asuming that the FMJ is still in that escalator well.
Of course, a shot fired in a store is VERY loud, even if it is just a .25 and people dropped their groceries and tellers slammed their tills closed and there were a few screams. Honestly, what I was expecting the robber to do was lay down the knife and put his hands up. That's how I thought things would work, because that's what I would do if I had a knife and another guy had a gun. Well, that isn't what happened.
I will tell you what happened after a brief pause...

September 23, 2006, 07:03 AM
I would expect the robber would either run away or charge you. He would not comply. A common error of thinking in those who carry a gun is that a gun will create compliance in other people. It does not. It creates fear and often irrational action.

Many law abiding citizens believe criminals rely on weapons to overcome victims. They do not. Law abiding citizens rely on weapons. Criminals rely on tactics. They plan ahead and are on the offensive. Law abiding citizens will always be in a defensive position, trying to take the initiative.

Under the circumstances it is difficult to say your warning shot was the wrong thing to do. If it succeeded it succeeded. I would not have done the same thing, but I cannot judge you, not having been there myself.

This happened in London?

Odd Job
September 23, 2006, 07:10 AM
@ XavierBreath

I would expect the robber would either run away or charge you. He would not comply. A common error of thinking in those who carry a gun is that a gun will create compliance in other people.

Aha, there is more to the tale my friend...hold that thought right there.
(This happened in Johannesburg, SA.)

Odd Job
September 23, 2006, 07:27 AM
Okay here is what happened next:

The robber made a run for it, up the escalator. He was moving at a good pace.

I gave chase, yelling for him to stop, gun still drawn. I was in quite good shape because I didn't have a car and had to walk or cycle everywhere and I also played squash at least three times a week. But this guy could run and he ran flat out up the escalator and out onto street level, knife still in hand. I chased him down two city blocks and people were scattering on either side of us. I was gaining on him and the more I ran the more annoyed I got. We made a left and ran another city block and then he got to a corner just as a double-decker bus was coming around and he knew he couldn't get around before I closed the distance. So he spun around on the corner, lifted the knife up and prepared to stab me.
At that point I stopped really fast, a few paces from him and aimed the gun at his face. It was quite ridiculous because all I could think of saying to him was 'No.'
Just that one word.

There were people milling around across the road and there were people in the bus behind the robber. I was definitely in the minority, demographically.
Here is what he did: he cocked his head to the side to see if he could make out whether the safety catch was engaged or not. He couldn't make that out. He then looked where my feet were and then looked into my eyes for a few seconds. I think he appreciated at that point that this was a small gun, but I was likely to shoot. I had pressure on the trigger so that the knuckle of my index finger was white. Only after he had considered all these things did he comply.
He put the knife down and another security guard arrived soon after that and took him back to the store.
The female security guard: fortunately the robber had over-stabbed and the blade had gone behind her right shoulder. The force of the blow on the root of her neck is what knocked her senseless. She was okay.
The guy who came off the worst was the male security guard, although I don't doubt they gave that robber a good kicking before the police came for him.

September 23, 2006, 07:44 AM
Aha, there is more to the tale my friend...hold that thought right there.It's nice to be able to make a call prior to you finishing the story, to see if I was correct. ;)

I'm glad it worked out OK, I'm not sure if I would have given chase or rendered aid to the fallen guard. You never know unless you are in that specific situation how you would react. I suspect I would have rendered aid.

I assume in SA it is legal to give chase. In many places in the US you would be on precarious legal footing once the assailant has fled. Good job though, all things considered!

September 23, 2006, 08:08 AM
You can never know an outcome until the outcome has become history.

So looking at this from the standpoint of not "gee, this all worked out great", but more from going back to an actual moment where decisions were made, here's my take using random comments.

You had a situation where two people had been injured by an attacker and the attacker was STILL armed and on the premises.
You could ONLY assume that since the attacker had already injured two people that he would not hesitate to injure others.
The moment he saw your weapon (and before you fired it), he had the immediate opportunity to drop his weapon and quit... he didn't which means that he was even MORE likely to hurt others. (He chose to remain "in play").
He saw that you had a gun. You didn't have to fire a "warning" shot to prove it.
Based on how you layed out the diagram, it looked like he was only about 15 feet or so away from you, and the female security guard was laying on the floor (out of the way).
The moment you saw that he wasn't going to comply, and the fact that he had already injured two people, you had an easy shot and should have fired two at COM and given him about 1/2 second to fold to the ground. If he did not, then you should have emptied your magazine into him.

A previous comment about pursuing the bad guy was right on. The moment the BG left the scene, you would no longer be in the role of "defender of life" so your legal troubles, if any, would very likely have come from your pursuing him.
If you had shot him and taken him out at the scene, then there is no court in the world that would have prosecuted you for bravely defending the lives of others.

None of us ever want to be in a situation like that, and none of us including me can say for sure what WE would do in that same situation.
You did great and the outcome was as good as it gets and maybe I would personally have DONE the same thing as you regardless of my hindsight comments.
But looking at this tactically, and discounting the good outcome (because it couldn't have been foreseen), the warning shot should have been a COM shot.

God love you for stepping up to the plate when you had to.


September 23, 2006, 09:16 AM
The minute I saw the knife I would have quickly closed the distance [because of the small gun]. That of course puts you in danger as the knife is a deadly weapon. I would not have wasted ammo[especially with a 25 ] but fired as soon as I had a clear shot.Certainly after the guard was knifed you had every justification to shoot. The rule is always - shoot and continue to shoot until the BG is no longer a threat !!! Once he turned to leave the justification is lessened.

September 23, 2006, 10:17 AM
So, with a .25, is there any shot that wouldn't be considered a warning shot?


Roberta X
September 23, 2006, 10:57 AM
;) Tell ya what, 'NRH: hypothetically, you go stand over there and I'll have someone shoot you with a .25. Still inclined to snicker? No, wait, there's another way, one you can actually try: you have to walk a mile through a bad neighborhood; you can carry a .25 or a sharp stick a foot long. Which'll it be?

They're all big-bores when they're aimed at you. Yes, a .25 isn't much, but it's a lot more than a knife, especially past arm's reach.

As for the incident, he did what he did and lived to tell about it; as a bonus, a bad guy was stopped. There isn't any second place nor does one get extra points for style and grace.

None of us can be certain what we'll do when or if our turn comes -- "the best we can" is as much as anyone can hope and train for.

September 23, 2006, 01:48 PM
I presume J'berg isn't quite so saturated by lawyers as the US. Here you'd be sued within an inch of your life and probably put up on felony assault charges. Except for a few enlightened states like Florida there is presumed to be a duty to retreat.

September 24, 2006, 01:43 AM
i wont rip your ars over your decision but i will give advice.

if you fire a warning shot then your life or that of another isnt in immediate danger[ or one of the other justifiable crimes isnt being committed]. it is a prosecutors smoking gun [ pardon the pun] that your not defending your self out of a need of stopping an immediate threat.

i know this isnt the situation but you know lawyers.

in some states if you accidentally killed someone while trying to stoop him they will charge him with felony murder. meaning someone was killed during the commission of his felony and you would be uncharged . at least criminally, civilly is another matter.

this said you were firing a warning shot so the good faith of stopping a murderer is gone and you could be charged with man slaughter.

i would say you should have shot him if you were confident enough to hit the escalator.

but this is all the reasons why warning shots aren't allowed legally or tactically sound.

even in prisons, where warning shots have some merit, they are more and more banned.

September 24, 2006, 02:35 AM
Ah, good old Jo-Burg will always throw you curveballs...

What are you doing in boring old London?

Odd Job
September 24, 2006, 04:27 AM
@ OldBillThunderCheif

London...much less chance of getting into a situation like this one, I suppose. But basically it is a financial decision too. Radiography pays a lot more here in the UK than it does back home. Also there are better career opportunities.
Boring...well it is and it isn't. I was coming out of the hospital one day and two guys on a motorcycle did a drive-by shooting outside the A&E department. All I could do was watch them ride away and then run into the road and stop traffic from riding over the evidence (9mm cartridge cases in the road). A guy took a hit through the liver (he was the target of the hit) and an innocent bystander took a perforating injury to the calf. They both ran into the A&E department (best place to get shot, is outside an emergency department) ;)
Then last week a guy got stabbed on the corner here, in a store. And before that, a month ago, a bunch of teenagers beat a man to death just up the road here. So it's not idyllic, but still it is nowhere near as dangerous as Johannesburg. I don't stop at red lights if it is after 9pm when I am there.

Odd Job
September 24, 2006, 04:49 AM
@ All

Thanks for the comments.
Some of you have said I should have shot the robber rather than fire a warning shot. The trouble with that is the distance I was from the robber and the limited accurancy of the gun. I don't know if any of you have tried a Baby Browning before, but I can tell you it is not the gun to be making shots with when you are in a store and people are in close proximity to the target.
Anyway, it is probably not worthwhile going into all the reasons why I made the decision that to fire at the robber may injure an innocent. I made that decision based upon the circumstances and when I replay the incident in my mind, that is a constant: if I had to do that again, I would still not try to hit the robber from where I was. Too much clutter behind and to the side of him.

Of course the other two options are still valid:

1) Don't fire at all. Give him a chance to escape and then attend to the guard.
2) Close the distance and then shoot. Care would have to be taken that the angle of fire (should there be a perforation) could not involve an innocent shopper or perhaps somebody in that plywood office behind the robber.

Now that I think of it while sitting here peacefully at my keyboard, number (2) would have been the best option (mete's option). Of course when you are in the situation it is an entirely different matter. My instincts and objectives were to enforce my will on the robber while maintaining a safe distance from him. He didn't comply as I wished.
As to the legal issues of chasing the guy, you can't apply current US laws to an incident that took place in SA more than eleven years ago. There was much more leeway in what I could do as a citizen. I didn't get into any trouble over that. That's not to say I would try the same thing now. Things have changed a bit.

September 24, 2006, 10:47 AM
Where in London are you.

Juslaaik, thats a kuk area.

September 24, 2006, 11:13 AM
Odd Job, you are a brave man. It took nerve to run after the bad guy.

September 24, 2006, 11:38 AM
One thing I would have been worried about would be return fire. If an off duty cop or another armed citizen had thought the guy running around with the gun drawn were the bad guy...

Odd Job
September 24, 2006, 02:37 PM
@ monkeyboy

I am in North London, near Camden. You gotta like the word jislaaik :) I think it is so descriptive, it can't be beaten!!!! I know I was muttering that after the event, several times lol

@ cochise

To be honest with you I didn't feel at any time that I was at risk, because I was the one with the gun. I would say it wasn't so much being brave as being game for a run.

@ .17

The cops don't walk around that area, so the only way they might get involved is if they were driving past. I was the guy yelling for the other one to stop and to be quite blunt, he looked a darn sight shadier than I do ;)
Fire from a citizen: I don't know. That's an interesting question. We should have a poll on that:

You are walking in town. You see a guy with a gun chasing a guy with a knife. What do you do?

1) Nothing, it's none of my business. Take cover and observe if possible, while using cel to phone cops.
2) Shoot the guy with the knife
3) Shoot the guy with the gun
4) Draw down on one or both of the runners (specify)


5) Shoot both (that showed them who is the daddy) :p

September 24, 2006, 03:00 PM
Those little .25s are innacurate as hell! All I have to say is that because of Odd Job everything turned out allright in that situation, and that hindsight is 20-20.

October 2, 2006, 10:47 PM
This is a great story except for one technicality, he was a "shoplifter" initially, it was not until he began to use force to escape that it became a "robbery" sorry, I work LP and that was driving me crazy.