- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 29, 2008

Black Friday turned deadly at both ends of the country.

On Friday morning, a Wal-Mart worker was killed when “out-of-control” shoppers broke down the doors at a Long Island store’s 5 a.m. post-Thanksgiving sale. Other workers were trampled as they tried to rescue the man. Customers shouted angrily and kept shopping when store officials said they were closing because of the death, police and witnesses said.

Later Friday, two people were fatally shot in a crowded toy store in Palm Desert, Calif., in a confrontation that city officials said may have involved rival groups.

In the stampede at the Valley Stream, N.Y., Wal-Mart, at least four people were taken to hospitals for observation or minor injuries, including a woman who was eight months pregnant. Shoppers stepped over a fatally injured man on the ground and streamed into the store. When told to leave, they complained that they had been in line since Thursday morning.

Nassau County Police said about 2,000 people were gathered outside the store doors at the mall about 20 miles east of Manhattan. The impatient crowd knocked down the man, identified by police as Jdimytai Damour of Queens, as he opened the doors. A metal portion of the door frame was crumpled like an accordion in the onslaught.

“This crowd was out of control,” said Nassau County Police spokesman Lt. Michael Fleming. He described the scene as “utter chaos.”

Dozens of store employees trying to fight their way out to help Mr. Damour were also trampled by the crowd, Lt. Fleming said.

Mr. Damour “was bum-rushed by 200 people,” co-worker Jimmy Overby, 43, told the Daily News. “They took the doors off the hinges. He was trampled and killed in front of me. They took me down, too. … I literally had to fight people off my back.”

Items on sale at the store included a Samsung 50-inch plasma HDTV for $798, a Bissel compact upright vacuum for $28, a Samsung 10.2 megapixel digital camera for $69 and DVDs such as “The Incredible Hulk” for $9.

Mr. Damour, 34, was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead about 6 a.m., police said. The exact cause of death was not immediately determined. A 28-year-old pregnant woman was taken to a hospital, where she and the baby were reported not in danger, said police Sgt. Anthony Repalone.

Police said criminal charges were possible in the case, but Lt. Fleming said it would be difficult to identify individual shoppers. Authorities were reviewing surveillance video.

Kimberly Cribbs, who witnessed the stampede, said shoppers were acting like “savages.”

“When [store management told them] they had to leave, that an employee got killed, people were yelling ‘I’ve been in line since yesterday morning,’” she said. “They kept shopping.”

Halcyon Alexander, 29, said store employees “were working on him, but you could see he was dead. People were still coming, through.”

Ellen Davis, a spokeswoman at National Retail Federation, said the group knew of no other incident in which a retail employee has died working on the day after Thanksgiving. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in Bentonville, Ark., called the New York incident a “tragic situation” and said the employee came from a temporary agency and was doing maintenance work at the store.

Dan Fogleman, a company spokesman, said: “At this point, facts are still being assembled, and we are working closely with the Nassau County Police as they investigate what occurred.”

Shoppers around the country lined up early outside stores in the annual bargain-hunting ritual known as Black Friday, which got that name because it has historically been the day when stores broke into profitability for the full year. Many stores open early and stay open late, and some of the biggest bargains are available in limited quantities.

Later Friday, a dispute at the California Toys ‘R’ Us devolved into a gunfight that brought the day’s death toll to three, though it wasn’t immediately clear whether the deadly shootout was related to the annual Black Friday fight for bargains and other purchases, or a dispute that could have happened on any other day.

Still, the toy megastore was filled with children, and parents and other shoppers were left trembling and shaken.

Palm Desert Councilman Jim Ferguson said police told him two men with handguns shot and killed each other. Mr. Ferguson said he asked police whether the incident was a dispute over a toy or whether it was gang-related. He said police told him they were not going to release further details until the victims’ relatives were notified.

“I think the obvious question everyone has is ‘Who takes loaded weapons into a Toys ‘R’ Us?’” he said. “I doubt it was the casual holiday shopper.”

City spokeswoman Sheila Gilligan said police told her the shooting broke out between “two groups of individuals that have a dispute with each other.”

The Palm Desert Police Department received calls of shots fired around 11:35 a.m., Riverside County Sheriff’s Sgt. Dennis Gutierrez said.

Immediately after the shooting, about 20 people rushed into the World Gym across the street, the gym’s assistant manager, Glenn Splain, told the Associated Press in a telephone interview.

“They were crying, tearing and shaking,” Mr. Splain said, adding that one woman came in cradling a baby.

“Some people got into a fight,” said Mr. Splain, who spoke with some of the customers. “One of the guys here thought it was over a toy, but it got louder and louder, and then there were gunshots.”

Sarah Pacia of Cathedral City told the Desert Sun newspaper she was in the store with her two boys, ages 4 and 6, looking at coloring books when she heard a commotion in the next aisle. She thought it was people rushing to get a sale item. Then she heard three or four shots. She said she froze, and store employees calmly escorted her out of the store.

“This is Toys ‘R’ Us. There are kids shopping in there,” Mrs. Pacia said. Son Jayden, 4, was clinging to her leg. He told her he didn’t want to die, she said.

Toys ‘R’ Us officials released a statement in the afternoon saying that the company was “outraged by the fact that anyone would compromise the safety and security of our customers and employees,” but added that the deadly shootout did not appear to be the result of Black Friday.

“Our understanding is that this act seems to have been the result of a personal dispute between the individuals involved. Therefore, it would be inaccurate to associate the events of today with Black Friday,” the company said.

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