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Update: Lockdown follows disturbance at Independence Center

Police from departments around the Kansas City area were dispatched Friday evening to Independence Center after a large group of youths gathered at the mall and a disturbance was reported.
Police from departments around the Kansas City area were dispatched Friday evening to Independence Center after a large group of youths gathered at the mall and a disturbance was reported. The Kansas City Star

Independence Center locked down some stores early Friday night after large groups of youths congregated at the shopping mall and some fights broke out.

Although police made no arrests, the scene quickly became jammed with dozens of police officers trying to disperse ever-shifting crowds of young people.

When Independence police first arrived to handle “disruptive” youths about 8:20 p.m, officers saw 200 to 300 young people pouring out of the building, kicking doors out as they came, Capt. Mike Onka said.

Independence quickly put out a call for assistance. Kansas City, Lee’s Summit and Blue Springs police responded, in addition to Jackson County sheriff’s deputies and Missouri Highway Patrol troopers.

Onka said he told his officers to disperse the crowds but not to make any arrests unless necessary.

The youths kept moving, including to stores outside the mall and north across 39th Street to stores and restaurants at Independence Commons, according to police radio broadcasts. As some Kansas City officers arrived to help about 8:40 p.m., they reported being unable to get into Sears because its doors were locked.

The fights happened outside the mall, said Officer Tom Gentry, an Independence police spokesman. The youths damaged at least one door at the mall, he said, but no injuries were reported. Police made no arrests, he said.

Ashley Jones of Independence had just finished eating with friends at Applebee’s when they walked out about 8:20 p.m. and saw multiple police cars. One officer opened his trunk to retrieve a large gun, Jones said.

“We said, ‘Is it that bad?’ And he said, ‘Better safe than sorry,’” Jones said.

Then they saw a second officer getting a gun from his trunk. That officer told them a riot had broken out.

“We heard screaming and yelling, and we took off running,” Jones said. “It was very scary.”

While driving west, they counted 14 police cars with lights flashing headed toward the shopping center.

Some officers stopped traffic along 39th Street, while others entered the mall to disperse youths.

Some shoppers said they didn’t realize anything was wrong until the center announced shortly before 9 p.m. that everyone needed to leave.

Others saw fights, including between girls.

“It was a lot of fights,” said Marco Manley, 17, of Overland Park. “Somebody tore off a door.”

Others reported very large crowds.

“There were just too many people,” said Jarvis Williams, 14, of Kansas City.

Some young people said that a call went out on Instagram for people to meet at the center. Others said on social media that a large number of “protesters” were at the mall before it shut down.

Many restaurants and stores in and around the mall closed early. But a worker at the AMC theater north of 39th Street said that facility had no problems.

About 9:30 p.m., Independence police released the outside agencies to go back to their jurisdictions.

About that time, police also sent out a tweet that said, “A large group of unruly youths were in and around the area. They are dispersing. Please stay clear of the area for now.”

Independence police will be back Saturday to monitor the situation, Gentry said.

“We’re not going to put up with this at all,” he said.

The Star’s Tony Rizzo and Donna McGuire contributed to this report.

To reach Matt Campbell, call 816-234-4902 or send email to mcampbell@kcstar.com.

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