Palo Alto police are investigating an apparent drive-by shooting late Monday afternoon, Nov. 21, in which a person fired at least two rounds from a car, striking a window at Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and the window of an unoccupied vehicle in the parking lot at Stanford Shopping Center, police said. No one was injured.
The incident and large response by Palo Alto police led to a tense scene for more than two hours, as mall security guards told store employees to lock their doors and officers closed down El Camino Real during a busy rush hour. One store worker reported seeing people running in panic.
Police received a call at 4:25 p.m. from an employee of Fleming's, located at 180 El Camino Real, stating that the building had been struck by a bullet, according to a press release. Customers were inside the restaurant at the time.
Officers found a large plate glass window near the front door had been hit by a bullet, fracturing the glass.
Police also discovered two handgun bullet casings on the east side of the 100 block of El Camino Real. A witness reported seeing a person extending a handgun out the driver's window of a black Chevrolet Camaro as it headed north on El Camino Real in front of the restaurant. The witness could not describe the shooter, police said.
Officers closed the 100 block of El Camino Real in both directions to process the scene, reopening the road by 6:45 p.m.
Osvaldo Jimenez, an employee at the Pinkberry frozen yogurt shop, said he was just arriving for his shift at the store shortly after the incident.
"There were cops in cars on every corner" of El Camino Real in the vicinity of the shopping center. "People were waiting a half an hour to drive out of the area because the exits on El Camino were blocked off."
Nadine Rossetto has "never seen anything like this" in her 40 years of living in Palo Alto. She's a seven-year employee at the nearby Anthropologie clothing store.
At one point, all the businesses at the mall were closed, except for Macy's. Some started to reopen soon after traffic resumed on El Camino Real.
At Pinkberry, one of the stores that reopened, employee Christine Thompson said they followed instructions from shopping center security personnel, who told store workers to lock their doors, turn off the lights and stay indoors.
"We also decided to turn off the music so we could hear if anything was happening," she said.
"It put me in a panic, especially when people started running," she said.
The shutdown lasted about 45 minutes, she said.
But when Jimenez arrived, he said he saw people sitting down or walking fast, but there was no panic.
Well after the shooting, police received a secondhand report that someone inside the shopping center thought they had seen a person wearing a holster on their belt. The report didn't indicate whether they also saw a firearm. Officers searched the mall as a precaution.
There was no known motive or target identified as of Monday evening, police said. Officers secured the scene, and there was a large police presence to ensure public safety, according to police.
Cyrus Khayat, manager at Fleming's, said Tuesday that the restaurant is cooperating with the police investigation. He could offer no other details regarding the incident and deferred to the company's media relations. Staff said separately they are taking safety precautions.
Detectives are actively investigating the case. Anyone with information about this incident is asked to call the Palo Alto Police Department's 24-hour dispatch center at 650-329-2413. Anonymous tips can be emailed to [email protected] or sent by text message or voicemail to 650-383-8984.