Hundreds of Philadelphia school kids will have compelling tales to share when asked how they spent their recently concluded holiday vacation.
They will be able to say that they stormed a Far Northeast shopping mall and sparked violent mob scenes. Four of the teens will even get to say that they got arrested there.
The Dec. 27 arrests involved four boys ages 14 to 17 and occurred during a second consecutive evening of tumult at Philadelphia Mills, where merchants scrambled to close their security gates and shoppers were forced to flee, lest they fall prey to the “physical menace” posed by the roving horde, police said.
The disturbances followed a pattern seen across the nation last week. Similar social media-driven flash mob outbursts occurred in Colorado, Texas, Tennessee, Illinois, North Carolina, New Jersey and Connecticut, according to published news reports.
Most of those incidents occurred on Monday, Dec. 26. That’s also when Philadelphia Mills saw its first sign of trouble. According to police sources, dozens of young people showed up at the mall early that evening and made their way to the food court, where they engaged in some minor disturbances. Police made no arrests and recorded no victim complaints. They contacted their commanding officer, Capt. Adam Friedman of the 8th district, at about 8:30 p.m.
The following morning, Friedman said, he and his staff met with mall managers to plan for extra security in case of a repeat episode. They were mindful of the similar disturbances that had occurred in other states. The mall agreed to pay for extra police coverage by reimbursing the city for the expense of keeping additional cops on duty.
Authorities also contacted SEPTA to arrange for advance warning of any large groups of teenagers headed to the mall via public transit. On Dec. 26, many of the troublesome youths had arrived at Philadelphia Mills via SEPTA bus.
While monitoring social media for indications of trouble, police learned at about 2 p.m. on Dec. 27 that a flash mob was being planned for Philadelphia Mills. About one hour later, “hundreds of juveniles” arrived at the mall via SEPTA buses that had originated at Frankford Transportation Center, police said. Mall security guards tried to prevent the teens from entering the mall, but the teens found a way inside.
By about 5 p.m., a half-dozen separate groups of about 15 teens each were in the food court. About 30 of them were “engaged in fighting,” police said. Ten mall security guards were trying unsuccessfully to break up the disturbance.
Verbal insults greeted police as they ordered the youths to disperse. When a cop took one teen by the arm and walked him toward the exit, the teen tried to push his way free, police said. Then a second teen grabbed the cop by the arm, wrapped his own arm around the cop’s neck, ripped his uniform jacket and punched him in the head, police said. Another officer grabbed the second offender and arrested him, while a sergeant wrestled the first offender to the ground and handcuffed him.
During that skirmish, a third teen allegedly punched another cop in the head. Police chased and arrested that teen.
In the parking lot, police were trying to break up another crowd when a teen exited the food court. An officer told him to leave the area, but he refused and hurled profane insults at the cop. As police arrested him, the teen allegedly threatened to punch the cop and stated that “when he returned to school, he was going to smack every white kid in the face since it was a white cop that locked him up,” police said.
Officers took the fourth offender to the 24th Police District, where he allegedly tried to flee from a holding cell room and threatened to a cop, “I’m going to blow your head off.”
Authorities did not release the names of those arrested because of their ages. The boys are aged 14, 14, 15 and 17. They were charged with aggravated assault, trespassing, risking a catastrophe, mischief, making terroristic threats, resisting arrest, reckless endangerment, failure to disperse, harassment, loitering and disorderly conduct.
The mall remained in emergency response mode for about two hours before normal business resumed. According to Friedman, the extra police presence continued for the remainder of last week, but no additional disturbances occurred. ••